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Live review: Green Day at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater

September 1, 2010 |  2:32 pm
GreenDayStory Billie Joe Armstrong and company reinforce their scrappy punk status at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, inviting fans to come on stage and sing along.

Heads up, Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman: You may be in for some unexpected company come November.

“I’m running for governor of California!” Billie Joe Armstrong revealed Tuesday night at Irvine’s Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, where Green Day played one of the final dates of its U.S. tour in support of last year’s “21st Century Breakdown.”

That this announcement came not long after the frontman declared (in slightly saltier language) that he’s a rock star and can therefore do whatever the heck he wants was no cause for worry: Armstrong is a benevolent despot who encourages fans to join him onstage and launches free merchandise into the cheap seats with an air-powered T-shirt gun.

The singer’s introduction into state politics would present another problem, though: the early retirement of what might be America’s best live band.

Green Day is riding as high as it ever has this year, thanks in large part to the success of “American Idiot,” the Broadway adaptation of its 2004 album of the same name. And in Irvine the Oakland-based outfit — filled out to a six-piece with auxiliary players on guitars, keyboards and other instruments — seemed determined to prove that its theatrical streak runs deep.

Towering columns of fire erupted behind drummer Tré Cool during “Give Me Novacaine.” A video-screen backdrop depicted the ruins of a city skyline in “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” And confetti sprayed skyward as the band concluded its main set with an accordion-enriched version of its 2000 hit “Minority.”

Yet Tuesday’s three-hour show also emphasized the vitality of Green Day’s connection to its scrappy punk-scene roots. In older songs such as “Burnout” and “When I Come Around,” both from the group’s 1994 breakout, “Dookie,” Armstrong and his bandmates did what they were doing long before they graduated to arenas and stadiums, bashing out their hard-pop tunes with fat-free efficiency. Only the energy had been upped to suit the needs of a capacity crowd of more than 15,000.

In another nod to those cozy dive-bar days, Armstrong repeatedly invited audience members to take over his vocal duties, most memorably in “Longview,” Green Day’s first big single. The frontman’s initial pick flamed out after one verse, but her successor sang the rest of the song with an awestruck enthusiasm that collectivized the band’s superstardom while reinforcing it at the same time.

When the young man finished, he held out the microphone toward Armstrong, but Armstrong declined to take it back, obviously enjoying the sight of an ordinary kid temporarily granted extraordinary power. Following his idol’s earlier example, the fan mounted Cool’s drum riser and then leaped off it as Armstrong looked on approvingly.

Talk about noblesse oblige.

By Mikael Wood, Special to the Los Angeles Times

Photo: Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong performs at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. Credit: Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times