If there were any concerns going into Green Day’s March 15 concert at Barclays Center as to whether or not the band has made the full transition to a legacy act, no one seems to have notified front man Billie Joe Armstrong. That the 45-year-old rocker, less than five years removed from a stint in rehab and several months removed from his bands 12th album, could still inject such a vast amount of energy into a marathon 28-song set is a testament to his exuberance and inability to rest on his laurels. That the crowd on hand was nearly as appreciative of the material from 2016’s Revolution Radio as it was of the band’s classic material is proof that they’ll happily accompany Green Day on whatever journey they wish to take.
Since their major label breakthrough in 1994, Green Day have been carriers of the punk rock tradition of writing songs that are not only short and punchy, but that carry messages with strong emotional convictions. However, beginning with American Idiot in 2004, Armstrong’s lyrics moved from the personal to the outwardly political, the scope of the ideas became grander, the hooks became tastier and the band became bigger than ever before.
Armstrong appears to have felt obligated to speak his mind ever since and, no doubt galvanized by the tumultuous political climate of the past year, laid out his band’s goal for the evening in no uncertain terms.
“This is not about who’s conservative and who’s liberal, [or] what race you are,” he remarked during an instrumental interlude. “This is not about what religion you are or if you’re an atheist. This is about being together, everybody here tonight. This is an experience and it’s all about unity.”
Of course, for Armstrong’s promise to hold any weight, a significant amount of audience engagement would be required, and on that front the band did not disappoint. Fans were called onstage to sing verses of “Know Your Enemy,” which opened the set and was the lone representative of the 2009 album 21st Century Breakdown, and “Longview.” On the latter, the lucky concertgoer’s highly-energetic performance of the song’s final verse prompted Armstrong to quip, “Are you trying to take my job?”
Elsewhere, the band’s connection with the audience relied heavily on the arena rock gestures that Armstrong has embraced with considerable abandon over the past several years—call and response singing, clever asides, mid-song speeches and more than a fair amount of shouting. The band’s rendition of “Hitchin’ a Ride” was a tour de force in that vein, plodding along for several minutes as Armstrong toyed with the audience, who worked up a sweat to keep pace.
However, the band was also wise enough to know when to dial back and let their music do the talking. Straight-ahead, no-frills readings of “When I Come Around” and “Basket Case” proved that their classic material has lost none of its drive and immediacy, while a teaser of the Bobby Freeman rocker “Do You Wanna Dance” showed a band still very much aware of its lineage. Each song benefited from steady arrangements, anchored by one of rock’s tightest and most overlooked rhythm sections. Tre Cool’s tricky and flashy drum breaks were a consistent high point, while Mike Dirnt’s slinking and throbbing basslines remain a delight.
Perhaps most impressive was how much significance the lyrical content of American Idiot has gained with the passage of time. Sentiments that some critics of the day dismissed as reactionary and overly simplistic still manage to paint a vivid portrait of a nation in turmoil. Much of the album’s durability can be attributed to Armstrong’s tactic of offering poignant criticisms of society that, while sincere and transparent in their outrage, didn’t indulge in specificities and topicality, so as to insure that future generations can still relate to the songs’ messages. The album’s title track and the epic “Jesus of Suburbia” weren’t deployed until the encore, with the band more than likely recognizing their potential as powerful climaxes.
The crowd appeared beyond satisfied at concert’s end, and it would be hard to dispute that the band gave their fans maximum effort. While some could find Armstrong’s occasional preachiness grating, one can’t help but admire the way his band has plowed ahead with an almost dumbfounding sense of purpose. Armstrong spoke very candidly of his eternal restlessness right before launching into a short performance of—what else?—“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”
“I believe something right now, and tonight we’re proving it,” Armstrong said. “Rock and roll can change the world. I believe it; I will die that way; I will live my life that way.”
Let it be said that some things never change.