Billie Joe Armstrong ran onto the stage at the Patriot Center on Sunday night wearing a George W. Bush mask and suggested that the whole crowd join him in a group Halloween trick: going over and scaring the current occupants right out of the White House.
Even though Green Day was in a perfect spot, two days before the election, to turn the show into a political rally, there wasn't much Bush-bashing beyond that opening salvo. Instead, it was the delirious fun of skillfully executed, high-energy arena rock that the California trio chose as the main plank in its platform. And two hours later, after a whirlwind of confetti cannons, water guns, pyrotechnics, covers of the Isley Brothers' "Shout" and Queen's "We Are the Champions" and about a hundred Armstrong-led chants, there was little doubt that the band was more serious about showing its fans a good time than about which lever to pull.
"American Idiot," the group's critically adored new album (and self-proclaimed "punk rock opera"), has been misconstrued as a nonstop screed against the current administration. The disc's most resonant themes are actually the struggle against the mind-numbing conformity of American suburban life. It was fitting, then, that Sunday's show took place in the middle of Northern Virginia's lattice of strip malls. After opening with the blistering title track, the trio -- Armstrong, drummer Tre Cool and bassist Mike Dirnt, supplemented by three backup musicians -- rolled through four more of the record's songs, delivering the best music of the night in the show's first half-hour. Fans familiar only with Green Day's skate-punk anthems would hardly recognize the bittersweet, echoing refrain of "Are We the Waiting," which could have come straight off a Journey album.
There was more "Idiot" stuff near the end, including the Who-influenced song-suite "Homecoming" and the new single "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," but Green Day spent the rest of the show demonstrating why it is currently on top of the rock-and-roll mountain, light-years beyond the faceless hordes of pop-punk bands that began gestating in the wake of its 1994 album "Dookie."
Attacking the hits "Longview," "Brain Stew/Jaded" and "Basket Case," the trio achieved a consistently bristling but never overwhelming sound, making the basketball arena feel intimate. Armstrong has grown into not only a great arena-rock singer, but a first-class emcee, rarely letting the assembled catch their breath, much less sit down.
He finished the show by bellowing "good riddance," but he clearly didn't want anyone to leave. And why should he? Singing from the top of the heap sure makes for a lot of fun.