Green Day has fully and comfortably made the switch from scrappy punk trio to arena rockers, as their performance at a packed Times Union Center Saturday night proved.
But Green Day’s version of arena rock still owes much to the band’s original goofy punk attitude. While 2004’s “American Idiot” and this year’s “21st Century Breakdown,” which the current tour is supporting, have found the band tackling some pretty serious political and social subject matter, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool have thankfully not forgotten how to have fun.
From the instant the band hit the stage for “21st Century Breakdown’s” title track, the band members were all smiles and all bouncy energy and remained so through two-plus hours of screaming, raging rock fury. Armstrong, in particular, is a live wire — there’s no suppressing him, even on an acoustic-tinged ballad like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” which showed up mid-set. During a rowdy performance of the band’s recent hit “Know Your Enemy,” Armstrong ran out into the stands, mugging and swinging his guitar around like a madman.
The first half of the band’s set focused heavily on its last two albums, a dicey proposition for any other veteran band but Green Day. With the radio resurgence the band had — thanks to “American Idiot” — a new fan base has discovered the trio (augmented heavily live by a keyboard player and two other guitarists). Such newbies as “East Jesus Nowhere,” “Static Age” and “Before the Lobotomy” were greeted with massive recognition and giddy cheers.
But the real highlights were the old chestnuts that popped up during the second half — “Hitchin’ a Ride,” “Welcome to Paradise,” “Brain Stew.” On these songs, it could be argued, the band sounded the most like a band — maybe it had something to do with the pared-down backing musicians.
Green Day gives the words “audience participation” a new meaning. Throughout the set, members of the surfing, moshing crowd were dragged onstage to wield giant water guns, be sacrificed (a young boy named Caleb, who fell flat on the stage after some explosions during the vamped ending of “East Jesus”), and even sing (“Longview”) and play guitar (the nine-plus minute “American Idiot” song suite “Jesus of Suburbia” during the encore).
Perhaps best of all was the classic “King for a Day,” off 1997’s “Nimrod,” with saxophone lines that segued into the similar-sounding standard “Shout,” as is the band’s live custom. With funny hats donned, Armstrong and company blasted both songs out of the water is if it were the first time they’d ever played them.
New York City’s The Bravery played its last of 20 shows opening up for Green Day at the TU Center, and the band did an admirable job considering what it was up against. The road crew decided to have a bit of fun with the band, beginning with some random (and extremely loud) explosions during the opening number “Unconditional.” Things quickly escalated from there, as masked dancers with cowbell joined for the next song.
By the third song, “Believe,” crewmembers were shooting toilet paper and confetti on the stage, and now dancers in animal suits ranging from a panda to a purple dinosaur joined the masked men (now stripping to their underwear) onstage. By the end of the band’s set, the stage, amps, instruments and players were covered in toilet paper.