A child was plucked from the audience of about 14,000 at the Sprint Center on Friday to help sing the opening selection “Know Your Enemy.” After earning an ovation for getting the words of the political punk anthem right, the tyke set the tone for the evening by achieving impressive elevation on a fearless dive from the stage.
The venerable punk trio from California performed more than two hours of similarly contentious songs with paradoxically infectious cheerfulness. Front man Billie Joe Armstrong and his band have come a long way since he sniveled “do you have the time to listen to me whine?” on the 1994 hit “Basket Case.” An exuberant reading of the bratty song contrasted with an interpretation of the sprawling “Jesus of Suburbia,” an ambitious selection from the band’s acclaimed 2004 song cycle “American Idiot.”
Green Day’s extraordinary artistic growth hasn’t diminished its playfulness. Backed by three additional musicians, Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool clowned like giddy teens in a show that including plenty of pyrotechnics. Armstrong’s brief but impassioned speeches were as fiery as the sporadic blasts of flames and fireworks. As he wielded a spotlight in the darkened arena during “Holiday,” Armstrong cried “no racism, no sexism, no homophobia — this is America.” He interrupted “Letterbomb” to ask “aren’t you sick of the lies, the corruption, the conspiracies?”
The band revealed its core strength in remarkably raw readings of blunt punk songs including “Youngblood,” “2,000 Light Years Away” and “Minority.” In these moments, Green Day evoked the righteousness of the seminal punk band the Clash and the cathartic bombast of the classic rock group the Who. Even so, Armstrong’s tireless goading of the audience was equally reminiscent of Garth Brooks, the country star who presided over seven sold out concerts at the arena in May. Both men take great pleasure in orchestrating elaborate cheers from compliant admirers.
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An exuberant fan was selected to sing the final verse of “Longview.” The shameless showboating of the man indicated that he’d drawn fresh inspiration from Armstrong’s expert stagecraft. He exited the stage with a dive into the audience that was far less graceful than the child’s athletic bounce after the opening number. Like Green Day’s performance, the fan’s leap was slightly clumsy, moderately dangerous and suffused with joy.
Set list: Know Your Enemy; Bang Bang; Revolution Radio; Holiday; Letterbomb; Boulevard of Broken Dreams; Longview; Youngblood; 2000 Light Years Away; Hitchin' a Ride; When I Come Around; Welcome to Paradise; Minority; Are We the Waiting; St. Jimmy; Knowledge; Basket Case; She; King for a Day; Still Breathing; Forever Now; American Idiot; Jesus of Suburbia; 21 Guns; Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)