The get-in-the-mood music played at the Tower Theater before Green Day took the stage on Thursday night delivered a one-two punch. First, Queen's rococo "Bohemian Rhapsody" boomed over the speakers, with nearly everyone in the sold out venue singing along with Freddie Mercury. Then, the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" came on hard and fast, priming the pump for the band to take the stage with its own "Bang Bang" (about out-of-control gun violence in America) from the new album Revolution Radio, due out next Friday.
At first, that Queen-Ramones juxtaposition seemed ill fitting. One 1970's band is all about grandiose excess. The other cuts immediately to the chase, and exerts an influence on Green Day hits like the locomotive "Longview" and bonkers "Basket Case" that was hard to miss amid an audience with whom an Urban Outfitters purchased Ramones shirt was a fail-safe fashion option.
The connection with an art-rock band like Queen is less readily apparent, until you stop to consider bandleader Billie Joe Armstrong's vaulting ambition. Sure, he mainly writes punchy, punky pop-rock songs that often capture characters caught in the depth of despair but never sound all that upset about it. (That's one big difference between Green Day and Nirvana, the other early '90s band with punk roots and disconsolate lyrics that sold millions of records. You can feel the pain in Kurt Cobain's voice; Armstrong sounds like he's having a good time.)
But Armstrong is also a guy who aims high, with big-idea concept albums like the rock opera turned Broadway show American Idiot (2004) and anxiety-ridden 21st Century Breakdown (2009). The first encore of the band's two-hour frenetic and fun show at the Tower concluded with Idiot's five-movement, nine-minute song suite "Jesus of Suburbia," which Armstrong once said he penned to write "the 'Bohemian Rhapsody' of the future."
Green Day have hardly been on a hot streak. The three albums - ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tre! - that the band released in 2012 barely registered in terms of pop impact. On Thursday night - the band, which consisted of Armstrong on guitar, Mike Dirnt on bass and Tre Cool on drums, with help from guitarist Jason White and in an oldies medley segment toward the end, Jason Freese on saxophone - was performing what in industry parlance is known as an "underplay." That's when a band accustomed to playing larger rooms moves down a size to guarantee a sell out and create excitement.
It worked. The show was a high-energy greatest-hits barrage, closing with the acoustic sentiment of "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)," the 1997 song heard at a million prom dances and graduation ceremonies. But it also offered a four song sample from Revolution Radio, with the acoustic "Ordinary World" sounding ordinary and the survivor's anthem "Still Breathing," the clear highlight.
That preceded "Minority," from 2000's Warning, in which Armstrong pulls off his trademark trick of pledging allegiance to the underdog with a song so catchy that it invites the overdogs in as well.
That song's spoken interlude turned into an election year pep talk, with the 44-year-old, still boyish Armstrong decrying racism, sexism and homophobia. "We have to be inclusive in here," he said, pointing toward his heart. "Get out and vote, and vote for love, all right?" He paused, then made his message clearer. " "But definitely don't vote for Donald Trump."