“This is therapy, man,” Green Day’s fanatic frontman, Billie Joe Armstrong, exuded to the crowd. “I don’t know where I am right now, but we’re never going home.”
The Ted Convocation Center is where the band was on Sunday, their first visit to Norfolk since 2005. Then, they came with a vengeance touring on “American Idiot,” and are still equally pissed off while navigating a similarly discerning political climate 12 years with “Revolution Radio.”
“Fuck Donald Trump!” Armstrong screeched, sickened by politicians coming between us. He demanded unity from the audience, leading a chant of “no racism, no sexism, no homophobia.”
A dirty pink bunny wearing a “Who The Fuck is Tre Cool?” shirt got the crowd going to classic punk tunes such as “Blitzkreig Bop” before Green Day came on. Once they did, Armstrong kept the hype up while climbing speakers and constantly demanding the audience “go crazy.” Starting a nearly 3-hour set off with a literal bang, “Know Your Enemy,” previewed epic pyrotechnics. Fireballs ignited throughout the set; exploding sparklers provided constant bangs that never failed to startle the surrounding audience.
While this energy suggested the nearly three decade old band hasn’t aged, Armstrong’s inner grumpy old man came out when complaining about the sea of cellphones. “When you’re looking at me through your phone,” he said, “you’re not actually looking at me.” He only managed to shame less than half the crowd into putting them down.
However, connection with modern-day youth was proven when several kids were pulled on stage to help with songs. Armstrong invited a young girl to bang out a few notes on his matte black axe for “Knowledge,” an Operation Ivy cover. She exuberantly embraced every band member, and after rocking the stage, Armstrong said she could keep the guitar. Every kid pulled up to live out their rock fantasies conjured an unmatched warmth in my heart and pasted an undeniable smile on my face.
Throughout the long set, which consisted of two encores, Green Day played songs for fans new and old. Undoubtedly the greatest song of the night was “King For A Day,” enhanced by funny hats and a Norfolk mermaid statue, holding the signature stance which Armstrong attempted to recreate. Donned in Egyptian pharaoh garb, the sax player slid into the middle of the crowd for an exaggerated yet excellent solo that transformed into “Careless Whisper,” a tribute to the late George Michael. Shapeshifting again, Armstrong steered the song into “Shout,” every band member inching closer to the ground as it got softer, now.
Opening was arguably today’s best punk band, Against Me! After a quick hello, Laura Jane Grace and the gang jumped right into an oldie but a goodie, “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong,” off the band’s first record, Reinventing Axl Rose. This was one of the few Tom Gabel-written songs they played, instead dishing out newer songs mostly written during and after frontwoman Grace’s transition from male to female.
The black and white backdrop, previously illuminated yellow, shined a sollum blue for “Delicate, Petite, & Other Things I’ll Never Be” off their 2016 release Shape Shift With Me. However, when Grace’s long, dirty blonde hair finally flipped out of her face, a wide smile showed a comfortability she’d been searching for since childhood. Along with side effects of gender dysphoria, over the band’s lifespan came a slew of lineup changes…. but this set showed the band finally found harmony. Grace graced the gaps with antidotes and song meanings, keeping them short in order to “play as much punk rock as possible” in the too-brief half-hour set.
During “Crash,” Grace said Green Day was her first concert. “That show changed my life,” she said, mentioning it was the moment she wanted to start a band. Looking out at the youngsters at the audience, she predicted they’d be up on that stage one day. “They’ll change the fucking world,” she said, “and I’m so grateful for that.”
Green Day was also my first concert, and one that also changed my life. Seeing them in a much better seat with a press pass over a decade later felt like everything coming full circle. Nostalgia poured over me, my inner middle schooler screaming every word to songs I haven’t heard in years, rebelliously sticking up my middle finger and grooving maybe a little harder than I’d like to admit. The older rockers proved they aged more like fine wine, their execution of an epic show and enthusiasm for their fans never ending.