By Pamela Wilson
“Welcome to paradise!” screamed Billie Joe Armstrong as Green Day erupted on the Echoplex stage Monday night for a two-hour tour of their greatest hits mixed with some crowd-pleasers of the future. If there were a college course on the ’90s punk trio who morphed into rock gods in the 2000s, this set list would be the syllabus.
There was something for everyone, from “She” and “Longview” for the diehard “Dookie” fans, to “Holiday” and “St. Jimmy” from the international superhit-turned-Broadway musical “American Idiot.” Early favorites “Christie Road” and “2,000 Light Years Away” led brilliantly to new songs from the band’s upcoming three-album release, “¡Uno!,” “¡Dos!,” and “¡Tré!,” the first of which hits stores Sept. 25.
You could tell right from the start, this would not be your ordinary Green Day concert. A “lil’ meeting of friends” was how Adrienne Armstrong, the frontman’s wife, described the night on Twitter hours before the doors opened. And the opening act was “Dano Forte’s Juke Joint Freak Show,” a one-man band who warmed up the punk-rock crowd with blues laments like “Crackhead Joe.” He was fantastic, but his earthy acoustic sound — guitar, harmonica and a drum made from a carny’s suitcase — was lost on the few hundred Green Day faithful lucky enough to have scored tickets to the surprise show.
But his inclusion on the bill is key to Green Day’s evolution from punky brats to world-class musicians. What started with three-chord diatribes about teenage boredom and grew into sweeping epics of political frustration has found an exciting middle ground that incorporates the best of both worlds while demonstrating a deep respect for music of all kinds. I was at the Fox Theatre in Oakland in 2009 when Green Day debuted “21st Century Breakdown,” an ambitious expansive follow-up to “American Idiot.” As much as I grew to love the album, it was hard to get a handle on the songs hearing them for the first time live. But that’s not at all the case with the songs from the new trilogy.
More than a third of the 27 songs they played at the Echoplex were off the new albums: “Carpe Diem,” “Nuclear Family” and “Kill the DJ” were straight-up solid rock-and-roll that shook the walls and made everybody want to dance. “Let Yourself Go” was a challenge to which the crowd rose admirably. And “Fuck Time,” one of three new songs that comprised the encore, had the brash irreverence of the “Dookie” era and the coarse simplicity of songs by the band’s alter-egos “The Foxboro Hot Tubs.”
But the real surprise of the evening was “Oh, Love,” the so-so first single off the new albums. What on radio sounds sappy and pedestrian is an emotional, heart-thumping power ballad when played live.
Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool all turn 40 this year, but they rocked with all the fervor of their youngest, pimply fans. Never afraid to try things — and absolutely not content to rest on their enormous successes of the past two decades — Green Day continues to evolve. It may be a cliché, but clichés almost always carry kernels of truth: They’re not getting older, they’re getting better.
Journalist Pamela Wilson is a longtime Green Day follower.