Green Day ended their Wrigley Field debut Thursday night with the most obvious song choice, their 1997 mega hit, “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life).” Though highly predictable — the familiar chorus bleeds with finale sentimentality — it was also a telling description of the experience over the previous two-and-a-half hours.
By concert’s end, three fans had received invitations to join the band on stage, including a pint-sized grade schooler who guested vocals on “Longview” before fearlessly stage diving into the crowd, and “Richie from Glenview,” who nailed the three-chord segue on a cover of Operation Ivy’s “Knowledge” and then got to keep a guitar from an emotional Billie Joe Armstrong.
“In all my life I never thought we’d get to play Wrigley Field. I’m so happy right now,” the singer said, gazing wide-eyed into a video camera several times over the course of the night.
The band, which also includes bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool, teetered between nostalgia and immediacy during the 26-song set list. They grasped for their roots on songs such as 1991’s “2000 Light Years Away,” which was dedicated to McGregor’s, the Elmhurst punk mecca where Green Day played several times in the early ‘90s.
They stuck to crowd-pleasing staples from their breakthrough records “Dookie” and 1997’s “Nimrod.” But they also refreshed the messages on punk rock opera “American Idiot” (later adapted as a Broadway musical) and broadcast the key points on recent release “Revolution Radio” for current times. During “Holiday,” the singer asked for the lights to be turned off as he symbolically shined a flashlight into the crowd. “Tonight we stand united,” he began, “with no racism, no sexism, no homophobia and no Donald J. Trump.”
Armstrong later chastised neo-Nazis and social media (“To hell with Facebook and Instagram and cellphones; don’t save it for later, experience it now!”) and routinely rallied about a new dawning for America. For as much slack as Green Day has gotten over the years for being punk rock sellouts — thanks to the band’s voluminous commercial success and a migrating sound that can veer too far over to sappy pop (the song “Still Breathing is a great example”) — their anti-establishment attitude is on par with the best of them, and it resonated on this night with a crowd that still turns to music in times of strife.
The band fell flat at certain times and dragged on far too long with interludes at others — with the help of a touring ensemble that included Jason White on guitar, Jeff Matika on guitar and vocals and the well-oiled Jason Freese on keys, accordion and saxophone. But what they lacked in perfect pitch and bad timing they made up for with pure entertainment. The frenetic antics of Billie Joe Armstrong have not waned even 30 years later as he high-jumped over amps, screamed without filter and writhed on the floor during a medley of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” and “Hey Jude.” Tré also had his moments, doing his best Rockettes impersonation, decked out in a tutu, and dueling in a saxophone/kazoo-off. And Dirnt is well, still Dirnt: A man of few words but always willing to play along.
There were T-shirt guns (with a nice line drive to the third base line from Armstrong at one point), rotating backdrops and a never-ending fireworks finale that may have put the Waveland Fire Department station on edge. But when Green Day was stripped of the Broadway showstoppers and got right back to the music, it was the most attention-grabbing — such as straightforward “She” and an acoustic performance of “21 Guns.”
Though Green Day is anthems away from playing the small clubs anymore, it still makes one wonder if returning to places like Metro (which hosted a one-day pop-up shop across the street) just might be the most punk rock thing ever for a band that has gotten very used to the big time.
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.
Intro music (original artists’ recordings):
Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen)
Blitzkrieg Bop (The Ramones)
‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’ theme (Ennio Morricone)
Know Your Enemy
Boulevard of Broken Dreams
2000 Light Years Away
Hitchin’ a Ride
When I Come Around
Welcome to Paradise
Are We the Waiting
Knowledge (cover of Operation Ivy)
King For A Day
Medley of covers: Shout (The Isley Brothers), Always Look on the Bright Side of Life (Eric Idle), (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (Rolling Stones), Hey Jude (The Beatles)
Jesus of Suburbia
Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)