Green Day Lets Its Fans Share the Stage at Verizon Center Concert

By Chris Klimek
Special to the Washington Post
Friday, July 31, 2009

"Do it yourself" is forever cited as the mantra of punk, and it inspired Green Day leader Billie Joe Armstrong to put his own band together 20-plus years ago. But on the evidence of the sturdy Bay Area trio's combustible circus at Verizon Center on Wednesday night, Armstrong's progression from Buzzcocks-style petulance to Townshendian revolution rock has had at least one side effect: He's discovered the benefits of outsourcing.

In a stunt that felt more "American Idol" than "American Idiot," the 37-year-old guyliner-wearing frontman summoned a half-dozen fans onstage. There were the two dudes he invited, separately, to sing competing versions of "Longview," the 1994 mega-hit that brought punk's DIY ethos into the bedroom. Later, he pulled a sweat-soaked young comer in white tube socks up to play guitar on "Jesus of Suburbia." The kid's awkward appearance made it feel twice as triumphant when he nailed the song.

In between, there was the woman Armstrong deputized to cool off the churning mosh pit with a Super Soaker while he opened fire on the arena's upper decks with a T-shirt cannon. What would Saint Joe Strummer think?

"Brilliant!" probably.

Sure, the "So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star" shtick has been in the Green Day playbook for years, but who cares? It's a gimmick worth keeping, responsible for some of the most exhilarating movements in a 2 1/2 -hour gig that felt Springsteenian in its length and giddy populism, and Kiss-like in its frequent detonation of explosive ordnance.

Ably balancing audience rapport with superbly executed arena rock bombast, the concert affirmed that Armstrong, Dirnt & Cool (discreetly backed by three additional players) are as good as anybody at making sure they've got enough showbiz for a cavernous arena, while leaving room for spontaneity and a little chaos. The ensemble was tight enough to whip the show back into line whenever one of Armstrong's digressions threatened to derail what was often a sprint toward fist-pumping release.

Now deep into a second act opened by its Grammy-winning 2004 concept album, "American Idiot," Green Day resurfaced this year with the long-percolating "21st Century Breakdown," another rock opera about two kids trying to navigate a nation in decline.

Yep, rock operas are back. But while the Decemberists have chosen the riskier route of performing their new story-album front-to-back, Green Day structured their gig more conventionally. They mixed seven new songs into a career-spanning brain stew that found room for Clinton-era standards like "Basket Case," "She" and, er, "Brain Stew," all aging just fine. For the die-hards, there were two from the group's salad days, "2000 Light Years Away" and a solo-acoustic "Christie Road."

It may have felt like a reach when Armstrong demanded, "Who wants to be saved tonight?" But whenever one of his audience recruits tried to slink behind the monitors, Armstrong gently nudged him back into the spotlight and ordered each one to make his exit via stage-dive. So what if Armstrong dropped a few dozen more F-bombs than were strictly necessary? There walks a positive role model for our youth.

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