The Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine, Calif. should be dubbed the “Green Day Amphitheater.” On Tuesday, the band executed a full-scale invasion of the venue during its three-hour-plus set, featuring tracks that spanned from the very beginning of its 22-year career to a new song titled “Cigarettes and Valentines.” Audience members of the sold-out crowd were captivated by the 38 — yes, 38 — song performance that was as energetic as it was tight.
Although the California veteran band AFI opened the evening with an enjoyable set that included hits such as “Miss Murder” and “Girl’s Not Grey,” the night belonged entirely to Green Day. The lights dimmed around 8:15 p.m., and Green Day took the stage as the introductory track to last year’s release, 21st Century Breakdown, came over the loudspeakers. A pyrotechnic explosion soon erupted as the band broke into the title track from the same record, and the thrill ride did not stop until after 11 p.m.
The beginning of the set revolved mostly around the band’s latest material as it blasted through songs such as “Know Your Enemy,” “East Jesus Nowhere,” “Holiday,” “Letterbomb” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” After the band announced it was recording a live album that night, vocalist/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong asked the audience a simple question: “Are there any old-school Green Day fans in the house tonight?”
After raucous cheers, the band launched into 1994’s “Burnout” before playing other rare, classic gems, including “Scattered,” “F.O.D.,” “Paper Lanterns,” “2000 Light Years Away” and “J.A.R.” It even threw in a cover of Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself” in addition to the snippets of 10 other covers in its two medleys of the night. The medleys included AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” and Tom Petty’s “Free Falling.”
All the while, Armstrong commandeered the crowd like a musical sergeant and his bandmates, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool, supplied an unbelievable amount of energy to go along with the top-notch renditions of every song played that evening. Armstrong described the night saying that “it doesn’t get better than this” as he celebrated with the large crowd of 16,000 fellow Californians.
“In this moment, right now,” he said, “there is no work, there is no school, there is no pain, there is no pressure, there is no responsibility. So let’s make it the night of our lives.”
After the band’s hilariously well-delivered performance of “King for a Day” and its cover of The Isley Brothers’ “Shout,” Armstrong reappeared with an acoustic guitar and began to play the emotional “21 Guns,” and the full band joined in to back him up. Next up was 2000’s smash hit anthem “Minority,” which the band extended to more than nine minutes long, including extended guitar solos, introductions and Armstrong’s traditional harmonica playing. As confetti rained down upon the audience during the final chorus, the screaming was deafening — but the crowd’s singing along was even louder.
Green Day left the stage after “Minority” but the show was far from over as Armstrong declared “I’m not done yet” Their encore included 2004 hits “American Idiot” and the nine-minute epic “Jesus of Suburbia,” which ended with a raucous pyrotechnic display. Armstrong emerged from the darkness yet again armed with an acoustic guitar and the band broke into the final three songs of the night: “Last Night on Earth,” “Wake Me Up When September Ends” and the perfect closer “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).”
The best way to describe a Green Day show is to say that it is indescribable. Although many bands take pride in making large arena shows feel like small club shows, Green Day is able to take big shows and turn them into extravaganzas. There are fireworks, flames, confetti, toilet paper guns, T-shirt guns and water guns. They bring more than 100 fans on stage every night, and a few get to sing “Longview,” with the best singer receiving a guitar right off the shoulders of Armstrong. They bring small children on stage to be “saved,” and Armstrong can control the crowd without saying a single word: he will stand or sit down and stare at the crowd until the applause is so loud that all of California can hear it.
A person does not go see Green Day. A person goes to experience Green Day, whether that might be from the front row or the very back of the lawn. Just as the band puts its heart and soul into the music, the audience members find themselves doing exactly the same thing, and it is a truly amazing thing to be a part of it.
Clarification: 9/2/10 — An earlier version of this story misidentified two members of the backing band as members of Green Day. This entry has been corrected to reflect these changes.