Just as Green Day guitarist and frontman Billie Joe Armstrong was about to launch into the band’s classic hit “When I Come Around” Sunday night, he tilted his head and fired an impressive loogie straight up into the air, ducking out of the way as it hit the Coral Sky Amphitheatre stage. It was a reflexive act from one of punk rock’s iconic flag bearers, but also emblematic of the casual joy that carried him throughout Green Day’s West Palm Beach concert.
No one in pop music is having more fun onstage than Armstrong, touring with music from “Revolution Radio,” the first Green Day album since he went into rehab in 2012 for prescription-pill addiction. And no audience could possibly have more fun than the crowd that packed Coral Sky Amphitheatre for an exhilarating two-and-a-half-hour show with more than two dozen Green Day favorites stretching all the way back to “Kerplunk.”
Looking trim and still boyishly handsome, the mop-topped Armstrong hit the stage with a contagious, chaotic energy and an objective. As Green Day throttled up the new war chant “Know Your Enemy,” Armstrong had a warning for those seated close to the stage: “Just because you paid more money for those seats doesn't mean you can sit on your ass!”
Standing, jumping and singing along was the rule as Green Day careened through classic songs that have fueled 25 years of high-school and college parties, including “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Longview,” “Welcome to Paradise,” “Basket Case,” “Jesus of Suburbia” and “American Idiot.” The crowd, ranging from tweens to grandparents, sang not only these hits, but rarities such as “Minority” and “2000 Light Years Away.”
Armstrong again offered fresh evidence of what a seriously underappreciated guitarist he is, and his singing voice was clear and assured to the final encores of the night, two beautifully spare, solo acoustic versions of “21 Guns” and “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” Drummer Tre Cool and bassist Mike Dirnt were, as always, a well-oiled rock rhythm machine, and longtime guitarist Jason White was a nimble accompanist on incendiary versions of “Welcome to Paradise” and “Are We the Waiting.”
The politically charged and critically praised album “Revolution Radio,” a collection of songs that touch on social issues written during the turmoil of 2016, was well represented Sunday night by the title track, “Bang Bang” (about a mass shooter), "Still Breathing," “Youngblood” and “Somewhere Now.”
Early on in the show Armstrong told the crowd, “This is your night to be away from the television. I’m so sick of all the politics. That s--t is not coming in here tonight. Tonight is about love and compassion.”
Not surprisingly, it was a promise unkept: During “Hitchin’ a Ride” Armstrong encouraged more noise from the audience to wake up anyone who might be staying at Mar-a-Lago, sprinkling in a few f-bombs as he went. And he closed “American Idiot” with a simple “[Expletive] you, Donald Trump.”
Some of the best moments of the night came when Armstrong himself turned into something of a reality-show host.
“Who knows the words to this song?” he asked, looking for a vocalist in the audience during “Know Your Enemy.” He finally plucked from the crowd a boy of about 14 who looked like a Billie Joe Armstrong clone in a black shirt and pants, red tie and a slash of green in his hair. The boy growled a few verses of the song into the microphone and, as he was drowned in applause, he dove into the waiting arms of the audience and surfed back to his friends.
A little later, a young man who told Armstrong he was from the Dominican Republic scrambled onstage to help sing “Longview,” first holding Armstrong in a long, emphatic hug. The man sang and roamed the stage like a rock star, finally taking a running start and leaping into the crowd.
Armstrong’s ambition almost got the better of him on the Operation Ivy cover “Knowledge,” as he searched the crowd for a guitarist to come onstage. After some discussion about her level of expertise, a 16-year-old girl named Kate was invited up from the audience. Once she arrived onstage and held the guitar, Kate appeared to freeze.
As the rest of Green Day played on, she spoke to Armstrong, who moved closer to her. As the conversation continued, Armstrong seemed to look at her intently and reached up and caressed her face tenderly in his hands. After a minute Kate slowly put the guitar over her shoulder, and Armstrong moved behind her and held his fingers on the fretboard. As the song turned back to Kate’s moment to play, Armstrong counted it down, “One, two, three!” and Kate ripped her hand across the strings. It was rock ’n’ roll, in all its glory, and the crowd went wild.
After a few more bars and a rock star-style leap on the final note, Kate was done. Except for a final word from Armstrong: “Kate, you can keep the guitar.”
Something unpredictable, and in the end just right.