"You missed me?" Green Day lead singer and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong bellowed in the face of a fan who beckoned him from the mosh pit during the opening night performance of the band's U.S. tour, before replying with equal vigor: "Not as much as I fucking missed you, goddammit!" And as if releasing a wave of energy that had building up during their four-year hiatus from touring, Green Day poured all their heart and soul into a powerhouse two-hour set that mixed songs from their latest album, 21st Century Breakdown, with a clutch of other favorites from the band's extensive catalog.
The stage at Seattle's Key Arena appeared to be comparatively bare in contrast to the banner-draped stages of the American Idiot tours. But when the lights went out, and "Song of the Century" crackled over the speakers as if being beamed in from outer space, the black backdrop suddenly lit up to become a city landscape under a starry sky, and the subsequent "21st Century Breakdown" unleashed the first of the arena-sized explosions, flame pots, fireworks and strobe lighting that dazzled the audience throughout the entire show.
But the band's obvious need to connect emotionally with their audience means they have an uncanny ability to make even a packed arena have the intimacy of a club gig. With the core trio of Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tre Cool fleshed out by two additional guitarists, Jason White and Jeff Matika, and keyboardist Jason Freese, Armstrong was free to run around the stage and down a catwalk that extended into the audience with abandon, beseeching the crowd to wave, chant and sing. And by the time the band launched into "American Idiot," Armstrong was confident enough to not even bother cuing the crowd, leaving them to sing the entire first verse on their own.
Green Day didn't bring back their cover of Operation Ivy's "Knowledge," where they'd pull up audience members to play the instruments, but there was still plenty of crowd interaction. Armstrong was gentle with a clearly nervous young boy who'd been pulled onstage to "freak out and dance" during "East Jesus Nowhere," and gamely accepted a full-on smooch on the lips from a delighted male fan chosen to sing a few verses of "Longview." Most surprising, Armstrong found a young man in the pit who was able to play guitar through the entire nine-minute "Jesus of Suburbia" medley. "That was fucking amazing!" Armstrong said afterwards. "Tre, take him backstage and suck his dick!" Cut to Cool leaping from behind his drums, taking the young man by the band, and the two skipping together offstage.
For all the cryptic footage flashed on the rear screen (gasmasks, tanks, falling TVs), the show's overall mood was upbeat and celebratory; amidst the hijinks of "Hitchin' A Ride" and "King For A Day" (with its usual segues into "Shout" and "Stand By Me") there was seemingly no room for 21st Century's darker songs, like "Christian's Inferno," "Peacemaker" or "Restless Heart Syndrome." The show was ultimately about Green Day reconnecting with the faithful, something they accomplished with effortless aplomb.
"Song of the Century"
"21st Century Breakdown"
"Know Your Enemy"
"East Jesus Nowhere"
"Before the Lobotomy"
"Are We the Waiting"
"Geek Stink Breath"
"Hitchin' A Ride"
"King for a Day
(with "Shout," "Stand By Me")
"Jesus of Suburbia"
"Boulevard of Broken Dreams"
"Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)"