Green Day has still got it. That was the unofficial message of the sold-out March 17 show at the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass. Outwardly, singer Billie Joe Armstrong and the band - which includes bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool - emphasized love, unity and empowerment in the age of President Donald Trump during a rambunctious, free-spirited two-and-a-half hour set two weeks into the sold-out North American Revolution Radio arena tour.
Yes, almost 30 years since their debut album, the pop punk rockers are still in their prime, proven by the comeback-kid success of their most recent album, Revolution Radio, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 when it was released in October and so far has spawned two hit singles, "Bang Bang" and "Still Breathing."
Also proving to be in his prime is the age-defying Armstrong, 45, who animatedly worked the DCU audience and zipped around the stage - complete with a walkway that cut through the middle of the jam-packed general admission pit - nonstop as if he were 20 years younger, pogoing, jumping off monitors, using a T-shirt gun to shoot swag all the way to the back of the 15,000-seat arena, and encouraging kids to get up onstage and dive back into the crowd. All the while, he was visibly having as much fun as anyone in the building, smiling from ear-to-ear and genuinely getting a kick out of interacting with the rowdy St. Patrick's Day crowd. ("New England Irish people seem to sing a little louder than everyone else," he said before declaring, "I love you crazy Irish motherf - ers!")
Peppered throughout the fun, feel-good performance were impassioned political statements by Armstrong that ranged from calls for unity among a country divided to outright contempt for the current administration. "F - you, Donald Trump!" he interjected during the politically charged "American Idiot," which remains just as relevant today as it was when first released in 2004, during the equally contentious George W. Bush era. But he also told fans to "never give up hope or let them divide us" before adding, "I believe that rock 'n' roll can change the world. If you see kids at school getting f - ed with, stand up for them. The world doesn't need another asshole."
But beneath the onstage antics and partisan remarks lay the true star: the hit-packed set list.
From the rollicking, pyro-drenched opener "Know Your Enemy" to the apropos, confetti-filled finale, "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," the band seemingly never took a breath, keeping the crowd on its feet and engaged the entire time (even if it took some enthusiastic "put your hands up!" encouragement by Armstrong on lesser-known hits like "Waiting" and older fare such as "2000 Light Years Away").
Highlights of the night included rafter-rattling fan favorites "Longview," "Minority," "Holiday," "St. Jimmy," "Jesus of Suburbia" and most recent hit "Still Breathing." Additionally, they played five other songs from Revolution Radio (the title track, "Bang Bang," "Youngblood," "Forever Now" and "Ordinary World") and several covers, including "Shout," "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and "Hey Jude."
During Operation Ivy's "Knowledge," Armstrong picked a green-haired pipsqueak of a kid, who couldn't have been more than eight years old yet had spent the night crowd-surfing like a pro, to come up onstage and play his guitar - and to the surprise of everyone, especially Armstrong, the kid held his own despite the guitar being almost as tall as he was. "Never smash a guitar," Armstrong quipped before sending the tyke off with the axe as a keepsake and these parting words: "I love that little bastard."
In the past, before 24-hour, at-your-fingertips access to social media, this sort of fan interaction would have been seen as spontaneous. But these days, every song, every stunt, every move a band makes winds up online within seconds. So, if you're a die-hard Green Day fan who follows them or various fan pages online, you'll probably know which songs are coming down the pipeline and when to pull out your handmade "pick me!" sign. But those easily accessed spoilers do not make the show any less enjoyable when you're in the moment, and both die-hard and casual fans alike clearly had plenty of fist-pumping fun on this particular night.
Of course, different cities and different fans create unique opportunities at every tour stop, especially because Armstrong really seems to enjoy interacting with people, often leaning over to crack a joke with someone or accept gifts. In Worcester, a guy in a rubber Trump mask spent the whole night trying to get Armstrong's attention, ultimately succeeding when the singer finally pointed and laughed. And St. Patrick's Day offered its own running theme, with at least a dozen shout-outs about the revelrous holiday and band members dressing up as leprechauns while Armstrong paraded around with the Irish flag and a green carnation in his vest pocket.
Still, despite fans not caring whether they knew what lay ahead or not, the presence of cell phones seemed to bug Armstrong, who at one point said, "I don't want to see your selfies, I want to see your faces!" Another time, he called out a fan in the front row: "Are you taking a video of me on your phone? 'Cause if you're looking through your phone, you're not looking at me." (A few minutes later he seemed to smile and gesture at the same person, as if to indicate he wasn't really that annoyed.)
Overall, Green Day delivered a high-energy, ridiculously rowdy, fairly tight performance with only one obvious screw up, when Armstrong forget the lyrics to "Youngblood." But he just looked at Dirnt, laughed it off and kept on shredding. So, no matter your age or what level of fandom you come from, if you're a fan at all, you don't want to miss this tour. (Although deep-cut enthusiasts might be a little disappointed that there aren't more B-sides in the set, there's no way they won't walk away with a smile on their face.)
Word of advice: dress accordingly if you plan on being in the pit. It was below zero outside of the DCU, but hot as hell inside if you were a certain distance from the stage. Huge flames lit up the stage throughout the night, providing an exciting backdrop for the band but also significantly raising the temperature in the venue. (It's amazing that Armstrong and his bandmates weren't just a giant puddle of sweat by the end of it all.) To offset this, Armstrong literally hosed down the crowd with water at one point, and security guards poured bottled water into people's open, begging mouths. But, hey, that's a small price to pay to have the time of your life.