Punk rock veterans Green Day began their operatic phase Thursday night at Los Angeles' Henry Ford Theater, debuting American Idiot live five days before the album hits stores. The sold-out show is one of four club dates in which the Bay Area trio -- guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool - will be performing its self-proclaimed punk-rock opera uninterrupted. Next up, the band will hit Chicago, New York and Toronto.
In an interview last week Armstrong expressed some nerves about the thought of playing new material before fans have had a chance to hear it. But those concerns proved to be unfounded as the packed Fonda exploded when the band took the stage at 8:30. Backed by three other musicians, including a second guitarist and percussionist, they launched into the album's first single/title track.
Immediately upon the start of the song's high-energy refrain, a mosh pit broke out near the front of the stage. And the crowd, ranging in age from early teens to early forties, shouted along to pointed lines like "Maybe I'm the faggot America."
An animated Armstrong, clad all in black, played host early on, introducing all of the tunes and providing the songs' back story. "Holiday," he announced, was "a song about the war in Iraq."
But the first real test came just prior to that song, when the band took on the extended "Jesus of Suburbia." If the intricate transitions between the song's five distinct sub-sections weren't as stop-on-a-dime perfect as on the record, the nine-minute-plus saga lost none of its impact onstage. The crowd stayed right there with the band, moshing and pumping their fists during the very up-tempo sections, "I Don't Care" and "Dearly Beloved."
Faster tunes like the thrashing "St. Jimmy" and "Letterbomb" were particular crowd favorites. Also going over extremely well was the poignant "Wake Me Up When September Ends," a song Armstrong dedicated to Ramones guitarist Johnny Ramone, who died of cancer on Wednesday.
Before "Give Me Novacaine," two women clad in burlesque-style red dresses carried out a sign reading "Act 2." They returned to announce the finale, aided by Armstrong, who said, "This a song called 'Homecoming.' And you can bet it ain't about a bitch in a crown.'"
After completing the album, Armstrong said, "And so it goes. That's American Idiot. Thanks for coming out." But the band did return for a five-song encore, drawing on past hits like "Longview," Delerium" and "Minority."
Green Day wrapped up the ninety-minute set with a spirited rendition of Queen's "We Are the Champions" that prompted some fans to pull out their Bic lighters a la 1977. It proved to be a fitting finale, as on this night Green Day earned the right to declare itself champion . . . of a whole new genre.