“Welcome back!” Billie Joe Armstrong shouted to a capacity crowd — but he might as well have been talking about himself.
A massively energetic Armstrong led Green Day in a triumphant live performance return at SXSW music festival in Austin on Friday night. The evening marked the first major performance by the band since he had an infamous onstage meltdown during the iHeartRadio festival in Las Vegas last September and subsequently entered rehab.
Taking the stage at the Austin City Limits Live venue to Ennio Morricone’s “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” theme, the trio (along with backing musicians) slammed through about two dozen songs, a collection of old favorites (such as “Welcome to Paradise,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Know Your Enemy” and “Jesus of Suburbia”) and newer tunes (“Stay the Night,” “Stop When the Red Lights Flash”), plus a medley smattering of covers (The Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”).
Armstrong, arms frequently raised and waiting, soaked up the outpouring of fan love in like he needed every last ounce of it, calling the night a “celebration.” He was focused and playful, more than once pulling audience members out of the crowd to join the onstage fun and shooting water, toilet paper, and t-shirts into the crowd using a variety of projectile toys. Though the singer isn’t doing media interviews during the festival, the show seemed designed to telegraph a media message of its own: We’re back, we’re okay, and we still rock.
At one point, a roadie abruptly took Armstrong’s failing mircophone away to switch it out. The singer laughed. “I wasn’t even on drugs!” It was a funny poke at the elephant that, while maybe not in the room given the waves of fan adoration, was at least in the vicinity.
(FYI for Green Day completists, the festival also hosted screenings for two Green Day documentaries: Broadway Idiot, which chronicles the making of the band’s Broadway musical American Idiot, and Cuatro! which follows the recording of the band’s three new albums, Uno!, Dos! and Tre!, all released all within a few months last fall.)
“South by Southwest, the greatest rock bands in the world!” Armstrong said of his festival host. “And a lot of other ones too!”
Last night, at least, Green Day was one of the former.