"It's been a slightly unpredictable path," Billie Joe Armstrong told a Chicago crowd already on the verge of hysteria after two hours of punk mayhem. Then he paused, surveying the surreal scene. "But I wouldn't trade it for the world."
The adrenalized singer's band, Green Day, had nearly wrapped a monumental, energy-packed assault on Thursday night – their first arena gig since Armstrong's mental breakdown at last fall's iHeartRadio show in Vegas. Rehab for alcohol and drug addiction soon followed.
By then, the evening had long felt, well, right: There was Armstrong, bounding about the stage, slashing away at his guitar, humping the ground and belting out his angst-ridden lyrics alongside bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool.
It hadn't ben a foregone conclusion that this rowdy return of epic proportions would be the end result of a tumultuous few months for the long-touring punk kings. Following rehab, Armstrong admitted to Rolling Stone he remained uneasy about the prospect of returning to the road.
"I'm not sure I'm ready," he confessed to senior writer David Fricke.
Yet if any lingering doubts remained in Armstrong's mind, they were quickly washed away by the Chicago crowd's exuberant energy. After a bunny suited stagehand emerged to chug a beer as the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" blared above, the three members of Green ran onstage – literally – to rapturous applause.
If there's one element of Green Day's live show that's remained static since the three Bay Area misfits released 1994's game-changing Dookie, it's that all three members still play the punk part to perfection. On Thursday, Armstrong wore his signature all-black jacket-and-jeans combo, Dirnt donned a cutoff T-shirt, and Cool sported his trademark Fifties diner-floor-style checkered pants.
But what would a Green Day show be without demonstrating just how far they've come? To that end, the trio laid out a cross-generational, multi-decade set list, front-loaded with a healthy selection of material from their underappreciated trio of recent albums, ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tré!.
There were faithful renditions of ¡Tre!'s reverb-drenched rip-riot "99 Revolutions" and ¡Dos!'s "Stop When the Red Lights Flash," as well an impassioned take on the classic-rock channeling ¡Uno! lead single "Oh Love," which inspired a massive sing-along.
"This is how you fuckin' party!" Armstrong told the crowd later on. He may be sober, but the singer still excels at his nearly unmatched frontman showmanship. "Everybody here is alive!" he added, with a smile. "This is a celebration!"
The band then unspooled a string of its greatest hits, leading with American Idiot's chanting charge "Holiday" ("Are you ready to start a fuckin' war?") before jolting into the Nimrod kiss-off "Hitchin' a Ride," which segued into Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine" and AC/DC's "Highway to Hell." That was followed by "Brain Stew" and Idiot's 'St. Jimmy."
Of course, the time away didn't prevent Green Day from delivering the Dookie treasures their fans pined for.
After spraying the crowd with water, toilet paper and T-shirts, Armstrong struck a Jesus pose and launched into the album's most iconic cuts – "When I Come Around," "Longview" and "Basket Case."
"Marriage equality for everybody!" the frontman declared minutes later as Tré Cool pulled on a beach-hat-and-bra combo and swapped duties with the singer, taking the vocals for the Isley Brothers' "Shout" while Armstrong manned the drum kit. Armstrong then strutted stageside with his guitar, flashing his pearly whites at the adoring crowd.
"I'll probably run outside, hail a taxi, go back to my hotel room and have a soda," the singer had told Rolling Stone of his post-arena show routine. Only the Green Day frontman knows what's in store when he exits the stage each night.
But for two hours and change on Thursday in Chicago, punk rock was all Armstrong needed to get his fix.
"Know Your Enemy"
"Stay the Night"
"Stop When the Red Lights Flash"
"Boulevard of Broken Dreams"
"Hitchin' a Ride"
"2000 Light Years"
"When I Come Around"
"King for a Day"
"Jesus of Suburbia"
Photo by Drew Reynolds