Green Day review, Old Trafford Manchester: Sonic flashbacks to pop-punk’s most defining and vindicating moments

Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, along with bassist and backing vocalist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tre Cool, perform a sold-out show at Emirates Old Trafford on the opening night of The Saviors tour (Myles Wright/ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock)
Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, along with bassist and backing vocalist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tre Cool, perform a sold-out show at Emirates Old Trafford on the opening night of The Saviors tour (Myles Wright/ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock)

The pedalboards may be glued to Nineties settings all night long but there are some next-level Back to the Future vibes in the air on the first night of Green Day’s UK tour in Manchester. Things start off very 2024. After a large pink rabbit – the band’s long-term touring mascot – has cartwheeled and caterpillared around the stage to the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop”, the iconic pop-punk trio storm Old Trafford’s cricket ground to a punked-up version of the Star Wars anthem “Imperial March” before powering into recent single “The American Dream Is Killing Me” from last year’s celebrated Saviors album. It’s then, with a time-shattering boom and a cartoonish explosion from the cover of their breakthrough album Dookie, that we leap back in time to the angst-riddled Californian basements of 1994.

“Welcome to the 30th anniversary of Dookie!” yells singer Billie Joe Armstrong, a 52-year-old man who has weathered so well he looks barely old enough to be celebrating 30 years of going to the toilet by himself. But the full 14-song run-through of Dookie that follows is only half of tonight’s story. The other half is dedicated to the band’s even more revered record American Idiot, which turns 20 this year, a benchmark of 21st-century punk rock that has been adapted into a successful Broadway musical with a feature film planned. What transpires, then, is a two-hour Ages of Emo parade, a series of sonic flashbacks to pop-punk’s most defining and vindicating moments, all lapped up by 50,000 gonk rock rebels of six to 60.

Dookie sold 20 million copies thanks to the way it played hyper-melodic keepy-uppy with the scrambled teenage mindset. These are songs of anxiety, sexual confusion, heartbreak, apathy and antagonism, but delivered with such bright, hook-laden exuberance that the rainbow arcing over the north stand tonight feels like the only fitting backdrop. The forever-young hits that helped the record cement pop-punk as a major commercial concern have lost none of their behemothic bounce: “Longview” resembles Adam and the Ants gone rabble rock; “When I Come Around” is a glorious grunge groove; “Welcome to Paradise” and “Basket Case” are more incendiary than the rails of fire that occasionally light up across the amps.

This 1994 segment sounds like it’s arrived fresh from the barricades of an embattled Nineties punk underground, the blood of Boyz II Men still slashed across its cheeks. Green Day’s early sense of knockabout puerility survives, too (the album, after all, was named after slang for faeces). At the record’s end, blue-haired drummer Tre Cool heads stage-front in a leopard-print lounge coat to sing secret track “All By Myself” – a coy croon about masturbation – in the orchestrated style of a Broadway showstopper. Presumably from Fiddler on the Roof.

American Idiot, on the other hand, was the album where pop-punk came of age, proving that this stuff could have depth and societal impact. As the sleeve’s inflatable fist fills the stage, clutching its bleeding heart-grenade, Armstrong seems instantly red-pilled: “One nation controlled by the media!” he yowls on the title track, “Information age of hysteria, it’s calling out to idiot America.” Later, during the Cali-punk knees up “Holiday”, illustrated fists pump along on the screens to lyrics envisioning a fascist USA. Clearly, 20 years haven’t dented the album’s relevance and, given recent polling, there are still plenty of the title characters about. For much of the show’s final hour, it’s not so much a case of Green Day revisiting 2004 as it is American Idiot driving its armour-plated soapbox into the latest election year.

Yet Armstrong insists that “this is about joy, it’s a celebration”, and tonight undoubtedly celebrates the breadth and respect that American Idiot granted its genre. Here, pop-punk could indulge in nine-minute song cycles like “Jesus of Suburbia”, mutating between Motown grooves, piano breakdowns and sections where 1950s rock’n’roll is recast in motorcycle chrome and ripped leather. It could, on “Extraordinary Girl”, pummel Merseybeat into Arabian shapes, and try its hand at U2 reverb rock on “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” or big “Biko” ballads on “Are We the Waiting”. On American Idiot, this previously 2D genre developed multitudes.

Between the two album stretches, Green Day display how they’ve since honed their ambitions. Last year’s “Dilemma” is a more sophisticated construction and 2004’s “Know Your Enemy” is a laser-guided drone strike of punk melody that survives a guest vocal from, shall we say, not the most Whitney Houston of front-row volunteers. “This is a night I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Armstrong gushes ahead of an emotional closing “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”. But if all tonight does is help hammer home the band’s pivotal place in rock history, that will have been enough.