Planning a Green Day set in 2010 must be a bitch. Half the audience wants Broadway-musical-inspiring opuses about love, war and Really Meaningful Things; the other half still idolizes 16-year-old songs about jacking off from an album named after excrement. At Tuesday night's tour kickoff at Camden, New Jersey's Susquehanna Bank Center, the band split the difference with a blistering 2-hour-and-40-minute set that was part post-American Idiot greatest hits and part pop-punk history lesson.
As the lights dropped, fans rose to chant the mournful "Song of the Century," giving it the same reverence as the national anthem. Flanked by lyric-scrawled, Les Mis-like mini-billboards, the band first took fans through a 10-song set from Idiot and last year's 21st Century Breakdown. Their knack for propaganda iconography was in full force as heartstring-tugging images flashed across towering LED screens (angels with redacted faces, marching soldiers, always-epic flaming skulls). A beaming Billie Joe Armstrong poured on the bombast as he played dictator, huckster, pep-rally leader, game-show host, arena god and punk snot.
"Who wants to be saved right now?" he cried before dragging a floppy-haired preteen on stage and faith-healing him during "East Jesus Nowhere." "Maybe a little boy? Maybe a little girl? We need fresh meat! I need a baby!"
There was certainly no shortage of little boys and girls — there were kids in the audience who were barely out of diapers when American Idiot came out, much less Dookie — but the real meat of the show was aimed at the over-30 set, with 13 straight songs spanning 1990-1997. Even Armstrong's look was a callback to this era; gone were the guyliner and pitch-black hair of the '00s, replaced by the bottle-blond mess of 1994. (Armstrong's explanation: "I went to the hair salon and I said, 'Can you give me the Justin Bieber look?' And this is what I got.")
The nostalgia trip rebuffed anyone who thought the band lost its sense of humor. They blasted the pit with hoses, shot off toilet paper cannons, played ironic medleys of arena rock hits and engaged in general jackassery, the height of which came when drummer Tré Cool, wearing a bra for the drag-queen epic "King for a Day," bent over and rubbed his crotch moments before a saxophonist in a "Thriller" outfit played the Benny Hill theme. An ill-advised round of American Idiot Idol circumvented the boredom of playing "Longview" for the five-thousandth time, with fans taking the stage to butcher the song. ("That was terrible," Armstrong told one lucky fan as he gave her his guitar to take home. "Now go sell the fuckin' guitar and get some singing lessons.") The throwback mini-set also underscored how far the band has come. As they careened through "Jaded," the LEDs flashed flyers from the Gilman Street days, easily setting a world record for the shortest amount of time between the firing of a T-shirt cannon and the making of an onstage Fugazi reference.
"Thank you for the last 22 fuckin' years," Armstrong told the fans before returning to the present. After effortlessly flipping the switch back to Statement Rock, Green Day ripped into a 40-minute encore, blasts of heat washing over the crowd from columns of flame that would give James Hetfield nightmares. Billie Joe whipped the crowd into a final frenzy with pages ripped from the Springsteen playbook: Remind them (loudly) what geographical location they're standing in, and then hit them with the acoustic closer: "NEW JERSEY!" "PHILADELPHIA!" "AMERICAAAAAAA!"
"Song of the Century"
"21st Century Breakdown"
"Know Your Enemy"
"East Jesus Nowhere"
"Viva La Gloria"
"Give Me Novacaine"
"Are We the Waiting"
"Boulevard of Broken Dreams"
"Nice Guys Finish Last"
"2000 Light Years Away"
"Hitchin a Ride"
"Welcome to Paradise"
"When I Come Around"
Medley: "Iron Man" / "Sweet Child O Mine" / "Highway to Hell"
"King for a Day"
Medley: "Shout" / "Stand By Me" / "Satisfaction" / "Hey Jude" / Shout"
"Jesus of Suburbia"
"When It's Time"
"Wake Me Up When September Ends"