Green Day triumphantly return to the stage during an intimate theater concert
The pop-punk pioneers show no signs of rust after Billie Joe Armstrong's meltdown and stint in rehab
By Robert Spuhler
Special to MSN Music
POMONA, Calif. -- About 45 minutes into Green Day's show at the Fox Theater during the band's smash hit “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” lead singer Billy Joe Armstrong turned to the audience, a sly smile on his face, and said, “Welcome back.” It was the most direct reference Armstrong made throughout the evening to his unplanned sabbatical, his stint in rehab after a public meltdown at a concert in Las Vegas, that postponed Green Day's major tour in support of the band's ambitious album trilogy, “Uno!” “Dos!” and “Tre!”
Instead, the pop-punk pioneers spent the evening making up for lost time, ripping through a career-spanning two-hour set and sending the sell-out crowd home from the band's first show since the Las Vegas incident both happy and, in some ways, relieved.
Armstrong was last seen on stage at the iHeartRadio Festival at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas on Sept. 22. His temper tantrum during “Basket Case” was initially written off as a punk-rock-style response to corporate radio cutting the band's set length, but it was revealed the next day that the Green Day lead singer would be heading to rehab for an unspecified substance abuse problem. The tour backing the release of Green Day's three albums would be postponed, promotional appearances would be canceled entirely and, partially as a consequence, “Uno!” “Dos!” and “Tre!” would struggle in terms of sales.
From the opening chords of “99 Revolutions,” though, the past six months were distant memories, as Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt, drummer Tre Cool and longtime touring guitarist Jason White got to the work of taking on the three latest albums, released during Armstrong's stay in rehab. Five of the evening's first six songs came from the newest additions to the catalog, with only “Know Your Enemy,” from the band's 2009 effort “21st Century Breakdown,” finding its way into the top of the set list.
Six songs in, though, came the opening to “Holiday,” one of the singles from the band's magnum opus “American Idiot.” The crowd, which had been enthusiastic but cautious to this point, exploded. Then came “Letterbomb” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” a mini-”Idiot” suite, and it looked like the Green Day of old, with Cool and Dirnt holding down the rhythm section and White complementing Armstrong perfectly on guitar.
All eyes throughout the set, though, fell on the returning Armstrong. It would be excusable to see some rust in the lead singer's performance, under the circumstances. The layoff by itself is one of the longest of the band's career, and the first break it seems that it's taken since the astronomical success of “American Idiot”; since the album's release in 2004, Green Day has toured extensively, released four other albums and written and produced a musical, among other projects.
Instead, Armstrong looked not just at home, but energized by the time off. Whether it was leaping around stage, climbing on top of speakers or shooting toilet paper and T-shirts into the crowd, the frontman's antics were buoyed by the sort of enthusiasm found in singers much younger than Armstrong, singers with something to prove. Most importantly, his voice retained both its tone and its volume throughout, despite his screams and shouts.
That energy and form will be immediately tested; the band performs in Tempe, Ariz. tonight and El Paso, Texas, on March 13, at small clubs in both cities (the Fox Theater is reported to hold about 2,000 spectators), before making its South by Southwest debut on March 15. Two weeks later, it will be back on the road, performing in arenas across America. By the time the band ended its two-song encore with the nine-minute opus “Jesus of Suburbia,” though, there were no doubts left that Armstrong will be up to the task. “Welcome back,” indeed.
Setlist (via setlist.fm)
Know Your Enemy
Stay the Night
Stop When the Red Lights Flash
Let Yourself Go
Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Hitchin' a Ride
200 Light Years Away
When I Come Around
King For A Day
Jesus of Suburbia
* Photo credit: Stefan Simonsen/AP