- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Who could have predicted that Green Day — three snot-nosed punks who complained of unemployment, boredom and lack of sex way back in 1994 — would turn into the triumphant pros who sold out the Merriweather Post Pavilion on Tuesday night?

The California trio, together for 16 years, is still riding on the upsurge of new fans and critical respect garnered by last year’s “punk rock opera,” “American Idiot.” It scooped up seven trophies at Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards, including one for best video of the year. Its frontman used the occasion to backhandedly congratulate the network for once again paying attention to rock music.

Yes, it’s pretty much come to this — the elfin greaser Billie Joe Armstrong, manning the barricades of rock.

The genre could do worse.

For starters, the thirtysomethings of Green Day clearly have tapped into the vein of adolescent frustration that rock music has thrived on since Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend sang about Their Generation. Today, it’s apparently found in suburban shopping malls and stoked by post-September 11 hysteria.

It was all “Idiot” for the first chunk of Tuesday’s show. There was “Jesus of Suburbia,” a disaffected teenager hopped up on “soda pop and Ritalin” and living in some dead-end “city of the damned.” And there was “Jesus’” alter ego, “St. Jimmy,” a self-described teenage militant and “the leader of the lost and found.” “Holiday” excoriated the war in Iraq, while “Are We the Waiting,” with its communal chant of a chorus, brought out the cigarette lighters.

After that assault of seriousness, Green Day — augmented by three backup musicians who played guitar, keyboards and horns — settled into such established hits as “Basket Case,” “Longview” and “Brain Stew/Jaded.” Mr. Armstrong and bassist Mike Dirnt energetically leapt atop stage monitors and sprinted down catwalks. The band lay down — and drummer Tre Cool crouched behind his kit — to unfurl the crescendo of the wedding-reception staple “Shout.”

To prove how much fun it is to be Green Day, Mr. Armstrong plucked three fans from the audience to play guitar, bass and drums, which has become a customary stunt in Green Day-dom.

Out came the pyro. Then the puppets. Then more pyro. Then one more, 10 more, 20 more Pavlovian chants of “Hey-ho.” It was punk-pop’s answer to Ringling Bros., and Tuesday’s youngish audience lapped up the spectacle like cream on an Oreo.

Mr. Armstrong, it should be said, showed little sensitivity to the presence of preteens in the audience, not to mention those parents who had forsaken the safety of the venue’s multiple “drop-off zones.” If the language didn’t warrant an R-rating, the crotch-massaging certainly did.

The show, which would last nearly two hours, threatened to spin out of control, but the band gathered itself for its most recent single, the ballad “Wake Me When September Ends” and the authority basher “Minority.” It also returned to “Idiot” fare with the suite “Homecoming,” which reveals the fate of the anti-hero “St. Jimmy.”

If the idea of concept rock coming from Green Day seems pretentious, well, it is, but Mr. Armstrong and company, to their credit, wear the stuff lightly. (Mr. Armstrong literally wore it; his stage outfit sported arm patches that read “Rage” and “Love” — lyrical themes culled from “St. Jimmy’s” tortured brain.)

The band’s encore included the obligatory “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” and, better yet, an exultant cover of Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”

There. Take that, Coldplay.

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