It’s so easy to needle Green Day.
Here’s a band that cut its teeth and made its name playing hardcore punk, and retains an allegiance to that irreverent subculture with its style and politics.
But it’s hardly arguable: Green Day long ago stopped being punk. The years have seen this band become one of the biggest and most successful on the planet. It’s impossible to reckon the Green Day that rose from the Bay Area’s early ’90s DIY music scene, with the same band whose major-label debut, “Dookie,” sold some 15 million copies worldwide, and whose more recent rock opera, “American Idiot,” garnered Grammy accolades and a rare Broadway musical adaptation.
So no matter how many dozens of times frontman Billie Joe Armstrong says the F-word on stage during the current 21st Century Breakdown North American tour, it’s still impossible to critique Green Day as a “punk” band. During Saturday night’s performance at Comfort Dental Amphitheatre, the enthusiastic crowd proved that today’s Green Day is straight-out-of-Mayberry radio- and family-friendly pop rock — from the buttoned-up, librarian type who acknowledged power riffs with a bouncing index finger, to the grandma with blinking red devil horns tucked into her helmet hair, and the scores of parents with school-aged kids in tow.
When Green Day is viewed without any (punk rock) cynicism with regards to how high or low the art or how pure the songwriting, this act is simply awesome at mounting a live rock spectacle. On stage Armstrong is the Energizer Bunny of rock stars — an adorable, scissor-kicking wind-up toy in sweat-smudged eyeliner who is all fan-pleasing charm and charisma.
“We’re gonna play all fucking night long,” he said at the beginning of this show. “I hope you’re ready!” And that really was only the beginning of his crowd-fueled bravado.
You could make a virtual laundry list of the fan-pleasing tactics successfully exploited to create this power-pop amusement park of a show. Playing radio hits both old and new? Check. Ear-ringing, eye-popping fire flashes? Check. Audience call and response during songs in which nearly ever person on hand knows the lyrics (“Give Me Novocain,” “Are We the Waiting” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” to name a few)? Check. Inviting fans from the orchestra pit to flood the stage? Check. Prodding a fresh-faced, violet-haired devotee to take over the mic during a signature hit (“Longview”), then giving her a guitar — to the squealing delight of her adrenaline-drunk brethren in the audience? Check, check and check.
Green Day even offered up a little something for many mom and dad chaperones in the audience with a classic-rock medley that touched on Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Van Halen.
This set ran well over two hours and saw Green Day play a breadth of material from its career. They capped the show with two hit-riddled encores, and concluded with a song that is so much a part of our mainstream psyche — “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” — that even the most antisocial shut-in has likely heard it and sung aloud with the same fervor as these satisfied fans.
Follow Reverb on Twitter! Here!
Elana Ashanti Jefferson is an editor at The Denver Post and a longtime music fan.
Joe McCabe is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb. Check out his website.