When the Sex Pistols were belatedly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, singer Johnny Rotten wanted nothing to do with the hoopla. Not Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong. Green Day, which single-handedly reintroduced punk rock to the masses thanks to some monster hits it had in the ‘90s and ‘00s, will be inducted on Saturday and last night's sold out show at House of Blues served as a celebration for both the band and its fans.
In the band’s first live performance in a year, Armstrong appeared genuinely humbled by the experience and the band sounded sharper than ever as it really fed off the energy of the packed-to-the-gills club (some fans even camped out overnight to ensure a good spot on the stage floor in front of the stage). Regularly hopping on top of the speaker monitor to beckon the audience to sing-a-long, the bushy-haired Armstrong reveled in the capacity crowd’s adoration.
The concert began with a stripped-down performance by the band’s original lineup, which featured Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and original drummer John Kiffmeyer. The set gave the band an opportunity to share memories and play a few early tunes. Armstrong thanked his mother, pointing to her in one of the opera boxes as he acknowledged that she encouraged the band from its first practice in the living room. Kiffmeyer took the opportunity to joke with his former bandmates, showing that he was likely originally hired more for his personality than for his skill set.
That set’s opening tune “Don’t Leave Me,” suggested the elements that would make Green Day famous — snarling vocals and infectious guitar riffs. Playing many of the songs for the first time in years, the guys clearly enjoyed revisiting their back catalog and Armstrong related a story about the band’s first concert at Rod’s Hickory Pit in Northern California, for which it was paid “in fries.” The set concluded with the mid-tempo “Dry Ice,” a song that thrived on Armstrong’s caterwauling vocals. “This is really cool,” Armstrong said as the band took a break so the stage could be reconfigured for a second set that featured green-haired drummer Tre Cool (who replaced Kiffmeyer early on) and a handful of backing musicians.
The second set also featured a wardrobe change and Armstrong emerged in a tux and beckoned, “Let’s Go Cleveland” as the band launched into “99 Revolutions.” Regularly jumping in the air and hoisting his arms above his head to encourage fans to clap along, Armstrong tried to get the enthusiastic audience to participate in each and every song. At one point, he even hauled a fan on stage to sing the lyrics to “Longview” and he gave the fan a big kiss at the song’s conclusion. With its rattling bass riffs, “Holiday” had a garage-rock feel and the moody “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” had a subtle intensity to it.
It wasn’t all serious stuff. The band brought Operation Ivy/Rancid’s Tim Armstrong on stage for some off-the-cuff covers and then clowned around toward the end of the set as Armstrong sang snippets from “Shout,” “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” “Hey Jude” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction." Armstrong even took up the kazoo for a minute. The three-hour set concluded with a vigorous rendition of “Minority” that featured Tim Armstrong on guitar. The two-song encore featured a punchy rendition of “American Idiot” and an extended version of “Jesus in Suburbia” that showed just how capably the band can jam together and how its music transcends the punk rock genre. Armstrong described the band’s career as a “long strange trip” but told fans, “Right here right now is where I want to be.”
Singer-guitarist Jesse Malin opened with a 30-minute set that drew mostly from his terrific new album, New York Before the War
. Malin and his large band often sounded more like a classic rock act (think Springsteen) than a punk group, but he won the crowd over with his enthusiasm as songs such as “She Don’t Love Me Now,” which he described as a “dance number,” featured soulful vocals and some spirited, woozy horns. He’ll be in town again on Saturday to play the Beachland.