About 40 minutes or so into Green Day's set, Billie Joe Armstrong begin what seemed to be an acoustic version of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" off what has become the band's seminal album, American Idiot. After the first verse, he paused before motioning to his band mates to come back onstage.
"Welcome back," he said as they casually strolled on.
Those comments could have easily referred to his return to the stage after battling his own personal demons after a much-publicized meltdown in Las Vegas last September sent the 41-year-old to rehab for several months.
Back and refocused, the Berkeley-based rockers powered through two seamless hours of performance that lacked any of the controversy that plagued their previous show. Last night was all about the music and, to an extent, the singer's own redemption.
Looking fit, trim and healthy, Armstrong was all smiles to the point where he couldn't contain them even if he tried. Outside of his good spirits, there also happened to be four other guys onstage who didn't seem bothered by the five-month layoff between. The band was in midtour form: crisp, relaxed and confident.
Pomona was the site of the first of three small club dates on the band's march to Austin for South By Southwest. Usually small shows serve as warm-up dates for a group to find their groove, but last night was nothing of the sort.
"Know Your Enemy," the night's second song, set the tone for what was to come, when Armstrong pulled a young punk rocker from the crowd to finish the words to the song before encouraging the little guy to take a leap of faith into the crowd, which was met with huge cheers.
When American Idiot propelled Green Day to heights they never could have imagined, some thought this would be the end of the punk-rock ethos they stood for. But this is a band that has rejected conventional wisdom over the years, doing things such as releasing three albums of new material in a four-month period, allowing for their signature record to become the inspiration for a successful Broadway musical, which is possibly the least punk-rock thing a band could do. Contrarily, the latter didn't deter the band's most rabid and fiercely dedicated group of supporters, then nothing will.
Armstrong may have kept the between-song banter to a minimum, but that didn't hamper his enthusiasm. Screaming and prodding the crowd all night, the singer took the theatrics to another level when he pulled out a gigantic water gun reminiscent of those Supersoakers of the early '90s and a toilet-paper gun that you dreamed of shooting at your 10th-grade biology teacher's house. He would eventually outdo both of those weapons by snaring a T-shirt bazooka that you only see at sporting events, and yes, he did fire T-shirts into the crowd, probably to the chagrin of those who plunked down $30 to $35 to buy one in the lobby.
Playing "2000 Light Years Away," a rarity from 1992's Kerplunk, Armstrong invited fans onstage. Playing the final bridge while riding atop one fan's shoulders, the singer victoriously basked in the moment, knowing how far he's come along with no longer carrying the burden of that embarrassing show that will serve as a footnote in the band's history.
Critical Bias: I had the chance to see Green Day back in 1994 at Nassau Coliseum in Long Island. Tickets were a whopping $12.50. Instead of letting me sit on the phone waiting for Ticketmaster, my parents made me go to a Bat Mitzvah for some guy I don't even remember. So really, this night was 19 years in the making.
The Crowd: Never seen one with the ages as all over the place as last night.
Random Notebook Dump: I've never smelled such horrible B.O. at a show before.
Know Your Enemy
Stay the Night
Stop When the Red Lights Flash
Let Yourself Go
Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Hitchin' a Ride
Highway to Hell (AC/DC cover) (Partial)
Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin cover) (Partial. Just the open)
2000 Light Years Away
When I Come Around
King for a Day
Shout (The Isley Brothers cover)
Stand by Me (Ben E. King cover) (Medley with Shout)
Jesus of Suburbia