MILWAUKEE On the second night of their summer tour, Green Day presented a perfect example of how a band can stay true to its punk roots while still offering a dose of arena rock showmanship.
After an opening salvo of "Welcome to Paradise," "Hitchin' a Ride," "Church on Sunday" and "Longview," lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong told the crowd, "Unfortunately, that's the end of our setlist" and spent the next 20 minutes taking requests from the sweaty crowd of more than 3,000 at the Eagles Ballroom.
The stretch was heavy on lesser-known tunes like "86" from 1995's Insomniac and rarities like the import-only "Suffocate," before which Armstrong warned, "OK, but if I f--- up the words, you guys take over." He did, and the audience didn't let him down.
While tunes like "Christie Road," from Green Day's 1992 indie release Kerplunk, clearly thrilled the devoted fans packed in front of the stage, the obscurities began to wear thin on the rest of the audience on the floor's outer edges and in the balcony. As if he could see the band was losing the majority of the crowd, bald-headed bassist Mike Dirnt asked the crowd which covers they wanted to hear, resulting in raucous renditions of Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger," Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" and the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop."
Drummer Tre Cool stepped out from behind his kit to pick up the guitar for a rag-tag version of "All by Myself," a hidden track from the band's 1994 breakthrough, Dookie, but from there on out, Green Day stuck mostly to well-worn singles and album tracks.
After baiting the crowd by asking if it wanted to hear some Linkin Park or Limp Bizkit eliciting boos and Armstrong's Fred Durst dis, "well, it's all about the Dookie" the band dove into the snotty "The Grouch," as if the song's curmudgeon was really an old punker complaining about the new rockers on the block.
During their last dose of indie-punk attitude a cover from short-lived Bay Area ska-punkers Operation Ivy Armstrong coaxed a teenager in the balcony to jump into the crowd, surf to the stage and then pick up his guitar and finish the song. The gesture perfectly expressed Green Day's "we're just like you" ethos, while the fan's obvious awe at being onstage with his idols was a reminder of just how far they've risen from their days playing San Francisco house parties.
The rest of the 100-minute set showcased Green Day's melodic side, with hooky hits like Dookie's "Basket Case" and Warning's title track and "Minority," both of which received anthemic treatments as Armstrong essentially turned the crowd into part of the band, conducting sing-alongs with all the enthusiasm and precision of a Bruce Springsteen.
Aussies the Living End kicked things off with an aggressive mix of rockabilly riffs and hardcore punk, though they suffered from the opening act curse of a muddy mix that turned the guitar/bass/drums combo into sonic sludge.