If your brackets had involved American rock bands and not NCAA men's basketball teams, you'd be in great shape if you picked Green Day for the finals.
On Final Four Saturday at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Green Day gave the kind of performance that suggests they're contenders for the best arena rock show you'll see in 2017.
Now in its 30th year, the Berkeley, Calif., punk-pop trio had the right combination of passion and showbiz, seriousness and silliness, urgency and impishness, politics and fun. It was the kind of concert that convinced nearly 16,000 fans (including many kids with their parents) that rock music can have transformative powers no matter what your age.
At 45, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong demonstrated that punk rock is about attitude, not age. His mission is still flipping a middle finger at the establishment while playing his guitar at 100 miles per hour and 115 decibels. And he did that plenty, calling out President Donald Trump with an expletive during "American Idiot," a song written during the George W. Bush presidency, and delivering sermons about living in a world with no racism, no sexism and no homophobia, a world in which love rules. He's an ageless punk with plenty of hippie in him.
And plenty of showman. Throughout the 2½-hour performance, the unstoppable Armstrong implored the audience to follow his orders: sing along or wave their arms or jump up and down. He and his Rock Hall of Fame band employ countless arena-rock cliches, including flame throwers, confetti cannons, fireworks, industrial-strength squirt guns and hand-held spotlights, "Green Day" spelled out in giant letters as a backdrop and fans coming onstage to perform. (Nick from Worthington, Minn., got to keep the guitar he played, and two fan "singers" got to stage dive.)
Green Day eschewed live video screens, which are de rigueur at big concerts. Armstrong also admonished fans for watching the concert through their cellphone cameras. "You're not looking at me," he pointed out.
If you looked closely, Armstrong appeared different from his last Twin Cities appearance in 2009. Having gone through rehab after a 2012 meltdown onstage, he was clear-eyed and fresh-faced Saturday, no longer drawn and tired looking. He was less manic and dangerous than in previous performances but obviously still wired. That's who he is.
Armstrong played his Minnesota card, talking about his first trip to Minneapolis, where he met his future wife and played at the Varsity Theater; he said their son's band just gigged at the Varsity last year.
That was the only local reference. Armstrong didn't even pull any April Fool's pranks. He and the band (bassist Mike Dirnt, drummer Tre Cool and three sidemen) stuck to the standard set list for this tour: six songs from last year's underappreciated "Revolution Radio" album, seven numbers from 2004's landmark "American Idiot," five tunes from the 1994 breakthrough "Dookie" and assorted Green Day oldies plus a medley of Wham's "Careless Whisper" (on saxophone), the Stones' "Satisfaction," the Beatles' "Hey Jude" and the Isley Brothers' "Shout."
The game changers included the hit "Holiday," the propulsive punk chestnut "Basket Case," the poppy current single "Still Breathing" and the first encore of a ferocious "American Idiot" and the epic suite "Jesus of Suburbia."
Although he sang about outcasts, alienation and frustration, Armstrong offered his own analysis: "It's not negativity; it's unity music."
Saturday's concert was not as head-shakingly, fist-poundingly awesome as Green Day's 2004 and 2009 shows in the Twin Cities, which were championship performances. But it was still a fierce demonstration of the communal power of rock.
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