“Who wants to be saved tonight?” shouted Billy Joe Armstrong a few minutes into Green Day’s sold out show at Miami’s American Airlines Arena on August 4. The band’s frenetic front man had just finished leading an arena-rattling extended version of Know Your Enemy before launching into a faux religious rant that included bringing an audience member on stage to be saved before a rendition of East Jesus Nowhere. It was only a brief bit of fun for Armstrong who followed by crashing into Holiday, forgoing tempo shifts for a red-line engine-blowing rendition that will leave fans debating the difference between rock and roll and punk.
The religious parody theme was perfectly fitting because Green Day is a band reborn, still possessing the soul (and ear-ringing sound) of punk rockers who are now staking their claim to the title of world’s best live band.
Yeah, that’s heady territory for a group that barely survived the meaningless prosperity of the 1990s only to suddenly risk it all for the politically themed American Idiot in 2003. But their two-and-a-half hour Miami performance with Armstrong alternately cursing and cajoling the crowd – in control of everything and everyone the entire night – was a blaring statement to the musical establishment: if you thought you knew the old Green Day, you don’t know this band.
That was never more obvious than on St. Jimmy, a lyrically-challenged song from American Idiot that was infused with so much musical and emotional energy that the band could have been singing the alphabet and the crowd still would have been roaring. That’s no small feat in the cooler-than-thou metropolis of South Miami where on this kind of perfect night you can stand at the right place and see the ocean on one side, the bay on another and a day-blue sky that lasts all night.
While American Idiot and its 2009 thematic follow-up 21st Century Breakdown have been highly praised and deeply damned, depending on who is doing the reviewing, Green Day’s live show was pure kinetic mayhem, keeping the crowd on its feet for the entire exhausting performance. Armstrong’s pure vocals were almost secondary to his stage-sprinting, profane antics, not allowing band or audience to relax for the first 90 minutes in a show that shared a common burning hemp heritage with late 60s, early 70s shows before security narcs began pointing flashlights at every secret toker.
At one point in the frenzy, Armstrong slyly purveyed the crowd, donned a police cap and said: “This is the Miami PD (loud boos). There’s been some slam dancing, some indecent exposure (cheers) and smoking marijuana (more cheers). It’s all legal now.” The crowd, of course, loved it.
And that’s exactly the band’s point: post-catastrophe America has never been so much fun. (That point clearly gets lost in the dissection of its two most recent albums but is center stage live.)
The Static Age and other songs were punctuated with pyrotechnics and flames shooting high into the air from all points of the stage. Totally unnecessary – Green Day had enough explosive power on its own with Armstrong to prove its point.
Back when Roger Daltry was throwing microphones as Keith Moon and Pete Towsnhend smashed instruments and eardrums to the days when Bruce Springsteen still mattered, the title for best live act had lots of contenders. And before U2 released their unlistenable new album No Line On The Horizon, perhaps Green Day wouldn’t even be considered.
But the edge (not The Edge) of a band fully in control of driving a crowd out of control was readily apparent in Miami. As Armstrong, drummer Tres Cool, bassist Mike Dirnt and their supporting cast cranked up the volume and tempo, a spontaneous mosh pit broke out in several sections of the general admission floor and medics had to pull out several injured concert goers, only to watch them rush back in. Hey, blame the music.
Realizing its multi generational support the band drew plenty on its past, with worthy performances of Dookie songs Welcome to Paradise, She, Basket Case, and Longview plus the rarely heard 2000 Light Years Away from Kerplunk.
Unfortunately not even Armstrong could sustain the tempo and the show hit a staggering slow point. While he played with the crowd all night, shooting T-shirts into the audience, soaking them with an uber water guns, unspooling toilet paper rolls and bringing up audience members for various stunts, Armstrong lost the momentum about an hour and a half in when the band got a little too playful and the energy sucked out of the building. A perfunctory medley of classics including the Isley Brother’s Shout, The Doors Break On Through (To The Other Side), and Tom Petty’s Free Falling was delivered with Armstrong alternately humping the floor and then on laying on his back. Either way the effect was a total buzz kill.
But before you could despair something great gone band Green Day recovered with Red Bull worthy versions of 21 Gun Salute and Minority before leaving the stage. The encore of American Idiot and Jesus of Suburbia (with an audience member playing Armstrong’s guitar until a seemingly pissed Billy Joe yanked it back and ordered him off the stage) revived the exhausted audience. And rather than send the crowd crashing into the streets, Armstrong chilled them with an acoustic finale of Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).
It was a low key and unconventional way to end an electrifying performance. But maybe that was the point: leave your expectations at the door.
OPENING ACT: Pity the Kaiser Chiefs. This solid band from the UK opened for Green Day taking the stage at 8 p.m. when most of the crowd was still outside or on the way to the arena. Too bad for everyone who missed them. They were the perfect warm up for Green Day, also blurring the line between punk and hard rock, with lead singer Rick Wilson popping up deep in the crowd mid-song. (Unlike Armstrong, though, he was untouched.) The highlight of their 30-minute set was a take-notice version of “I Predict A Riot” from their first album.