Live: Green Day's Proof Is In the Punk

Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong put on his best punk face and took blame for the crowd's behavior.

CHICAGO -- Climbing the stage, tearing at the props, shouting at

the crowd, Billie Joe Armstrong moved like a man with something to prove

Monday night.

And he did -- have something to prove, that is.

On his band's current and 5th album, Nimrod, Green Day seem noticeably

less green than their more garage-sounding discs of years past. Some of

the edge is gone, some more sophisticated production work is evident. Twenty million copies of the group's previous albums have sold, and as the new wave/punk combo The Brains once sang, "Money Changes Everything." Try as they might, Green Day are different now than they were back in the days when they recorded for Lookout and played obscure punk clubs.

Now they play shows to sell records it seems, not pay the rent.

So on this tour more than others, Armstrong and his Green Day crew have

some questions to answer. Can Green Day still rock, or have they passed

their punk prime?

Frontman Armstrong's response came a third of the way through the set at

The Riviera theater, during the song "2,000 Light Years Away." After

anointing the crowd with rhythmic splashes of bottled water, he got a

lift from one of the security guys and climbed up into the closest

opera-house style box. After further baptizing the patrons dancing

there, he tore down the banner that warned concert-goers of dire

consequences should they decide to mosh or stage-dive.

Then in a final act of punkness, he threw it into the hungry crowd and

jumped back down to the stage to continue the song. And with that, Green

Day had made their case.

By this point, the 2,000 people who packed the theater were all ears.

The energy was running so high that security helped five people escape

the pit before the band even went on. Green Day delivered a 20-song set

filled with solid punk skills and poignantly prickly songs. The set list

was culled mostly from Nimrod and their breakthrough disc

Dookie, but was framed by cuts from their debut, 1,039/

Smoothed Out Slappy Hours.

The show was filled with moments of punk self-mocking, from Armstrong

planting his tongue in his cheek and declaring that his guitar solos are

"bad-ass," to drummer Tre Cool amusing himself during the opening of

"F.O.D" by sliding the length of the stage on a dolly, to the audience

participation segments.

Armstrong led the crowd through some heavy-metal head-banging techniques

and then, during an Operation Ivy cover, he invited a random member of

the audience to jam with the band. The lucky fan, who went by the name

"Bob," performed quite well, but was a little hesitant to leave the

stage after Armstrong, pointing to the crowd, told him, "There's only

one way off this stage."

As Cool did a drum roll, Bob did more of a trust-fall than a stage dive,

and, subsequently, Green Day dove into "Basket Case."

As the set closed with "Paper Lanterns," Armstrong strutted around the

stage collecting clothes that people threw to him. He shouted, "More!

More!" and they obliged.

Then, apparently layering for the Chicago cold, he donned six shirts

(putting a leg through the sleeve on one), a sweater and a sweatshirt,

two hats and a necktie -- which he tied himself.

While there was a steady age gradient in the crowd, getting older the

farther back from the stage you got, there was no shortage of young fans

on the floor and passing overhead.

When Green Day broke into "When I Come Around" during the encore, the

audience came back to life for one final peak before the show ended with

the current single, "Good Riddance (Time of your Life)."

Outside the venue a line of mini-vans, Volvos and sports utility

vehicles lined up along both sides of the street to pick up the youngest

generation of Green Day fans. While the members of Green Day might all

have kids of their own now, their music and their performance -- and

their fans -- show no signs of aging.

In a moment which has been repeated through Green Day's current tour,

Armstrong told the fans that he remembered some of them from shows four

years ago, when the kids were 14 and got dropped off by their parents.

"Now, you're like 18 and you're completely fucked up!" he said. "I'd

just like to say one thing: I take full responsibility for that."

Judging by the cheers of this year's crop of new fans, history will

repeat itself. [Mon., Dec. 1, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]