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A big band in a small-ish room: Green Day brings 'Revolution Radio' to the Palladium

A big band in a small-ish room: Green Day brings 'Revolution Radio' to the Palladium
Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day performs Monday night at the Palladium. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Billie Joe Armstrong had a head full of memories when his long-running punk band, Green Day, played the Palladium in Hollywood on Monday night.

Not long into the show, the singer brandished a baby-blue electric guitar and told the crowd his mother had bought it for him for $300 when he was 10 years old.

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"She's sitting right up there," he added, pointing proudly to the balcony.

He also recalled the last time he performed at the Palladium, as an opening act for Bad Religion in the early 1990s — shortly before Green Day's album "Dookie" came out and launched the Berkeley group toward the arenas and stadiums it fills now.

These Rock and Roll Hall of Famers had returned to a relatively cozy concert hall as part of the rollout of their new album, "Revolution Radio," which they've described as a back-to-basics effort after years of ambitious experimentation.

Released this month, it's the band's first record since 2000 not to carry an overarching concept, be it the rock-opera storytelling of 2004's "American Idiot" (which later became a hit Broadway musical) or the triple-album sprawl of "¡Uno!," "¡Dos!" and "¡Tré!" in 2012.

In contrast with those discs, "Revolution Radio" emphasizes fuzzy guitars and punchy choruses over stylistic variety or character development. And to drive home the old-school vibe, the trio — which also features bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool — booked a swing through the kinds of venues it outgrew long ago.

Fans take in the show.
Fans take in the show. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Yet Green Day can only downsize so much. This week "Revolution Radio" entered Billboard's album chart at No. 1, a rare feat for a guitar band in this era of slick computerized pop. It also announced it'll be back in arenas next year on a spring tour many expected will include a stop at California's massive Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

And though Monday's gig may have been intimate by design, it wasn't small in scale, with more than two dozen songs over 2 hours 15 minutes and a roaring sonic attack geared to a room many times larger than the Palladium.

Nor did Armstrong shy away from big issues. For all its breakneck propulsion, "Revolution Radio" ponders knotty topics like police brutality, mass shootings and the unknown effect that staring at screens all day is having on us; it's hardly a flashback to the stoner apathy and puppy love that defined Green Day's early records (though there's a bit of the latter in the sweet "Youngblood").

Here the singer seethed through the new album's "Bang Bang," about a "semi-automatic lonely boy," and seemed to take the audience into his embrace in "Still Breathing," a misfit's survival anthem with a surging melody.

During "Holiday," a Bush-era protest song railing against "hollow lies," Armstrong warned that "Donald Trump will be president unless we do something tonight!" (He didn't specify what.) And he dedicated "Jesus of Suburbia" to everyone from a crummy small town — or a more vividly phrased version of that, anyway.

But even when Green Day reached back for lightweight oldies like "Longview" and "When I Come Around," the band — augmented by three skilled touring players — was exercising the type of muscle that musicians develop only by playing huge concerts.

Armstrong invited one concertgoer onstage to help sing "Know Your Enemy."
Armstrong invited one concertgoer onstage to help sing "Know Your Enemy." (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Ditto Armstrong's effortless way of involving the crowd in the show, as when he invited one fan onstage during "Know Your Enemy" to sing with him for a while, then expertly guided her through a dive back into the pit.

The frontman drew on his showbiz know-how again at the end of the night, when he closed with two gentle acoustic ditties — the new "Ordinary World" and the classic "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" — that inspired many in the house to aim their camera phones at him.

Earlier he'd asked fans to put those away, so they might live in the moment. But not this time.

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Even a rock star nostalgic for the old days understands how a legend is maintained in the digital age.

Twitter: @mikaelwood

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