Lazy’ audience, truncated set prompt Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong to rock the house

Green Day lead vocalist and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong performs during the 2012 iHeartRadio Music Festival at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday, Sept. 21, 2012.
Photo: Steve Marcus

The frontman for Green Day was red Friday night. Red-in-the-face angry.

Billie Joe Armstrong put on a show on the first night of the iHeartRadio Music Festival, a carpet-bombing of F-bombs and an expert display of guitar destruction.

Boy-howdy, did he go off.

Green Day was the penultimate act in Friday’s opening night of the star-laden lineup at a jammed MGM Grand Garden Arena. The hard-rock band from Berkeley, Calif., one of the bestselling, most influential acts in music over the past two decades, was preceded by a masterfully crafted set by Usher and was to be followed by Rihanna to close the first of two sold-out iHeart shows.

Day 1: iHeartRadio 2012

2012 iHeartRadio: Night 1 Arrivals

Day 1 of iHeartRadio: Billie Joe Armstrong

2012 iHeartRadio: Green Day

Green Day lead vocalist and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong interacts with the audience during the 2012 iHeartRadio Music Festival at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday, Sept. 21, 2012.

Minutes after Usher and his 15 dancers strode from the stage, Green Day appeared and vaulted into “American Idiot,” the title of their 2003 masterpiece album of the same name. The audience seemed spent, weary, many regrouping after Usher’s intense and long-running set, and the show was still at least 90 minutes from the finish when Green Day started about 11:30 p.m.

The band charged forth, but the audience -- especially at house right/stage left -- was not fully engaged. They were not fully standing, lacking the intensity the band itself so obviously relishes. So Armstrong shouted, “Stand up, you lazy em-effers!” Repeatedly. He was having none of this sitting-down garbage. “Effing stand up! This is Las Vegas! This isn’t effing Reno!”

So Green Day can forget about being booked at Lawlor Events Center anytime soon.

This went on throughout Green Day’s appearance, which was about a half-hour behind schedule. The band was originally scheduled to start at 11:05 and finish just before Rihanna began her show-closing set at 11:50. But Green Day was not introduced by Mario Lopez and Demi Lovato (I guess they're Green Day fans) until about 11:35 and was told to quit at 12:05. These time pegs are taken from my Twitter updates at the beginning and end of their set.

From the start, Armstrong repeatedly fired F-bombs at the audience, which was jarred out of its perceived lethargy as the band blasted through such rockers as “Holiday” and “St. Jimmy.” During the latter song, Armstrong pulled up his shirt and yanked down the waistband of his trousers a few inches to nearly expose his … well, we almost had us a Jim Morrison-in-Miami episode. A Prince Harry-at-Encore situation.

Armstrong also pulled at the front of a video camera shooting the band for the event’s live stream, asked a fan at the front of the stage to hold the mic stand so he could wade into the crowd (this might have been planned, though security seemed unprepared initially at this brazen piece of stagecraft) and summoned a woman onstage for a “first date.” After the first gal turned him down, a woman in a slinky grey/green dress showed up to dance briefly with Armstrong.

All of this, accepted behavior at a Green Day show. No question.

Soon, Armstrong was grousing about the time allotted the band in a show featuring 10 acts over five hours. “We have nine effing minutes left?! What the ef?!” he shouted while glaring at a giant monitor in the middle of the arena floor, which read (coincidentally enough), “9 MINUTES.”

“I’ve been around for 25 effing years! I should get more than one minute per song!” Armstrong shouted, making his own per-song calculations at this point. But he was right about the set being cut short, by about 15 minutes according to the schedule posted on the iHeartRadio website.

With a minute left before the stage was to be turned around to display Rihanna’s lavish, Luxor-styled set, Armstrong shouted, “Now we have one minute?! Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. gets more than one minute to effing knock out (pause) some guy from Argentina!”

He then tossed an insult at Justin Bieber, perhaps also directed at Usher, who has been an important mentor in Bieber’s career and the artist who preceded Green Day onstage. “I’ve been around since 1980-effing-8! You’re going to give me one effing minute? You’ve got to be effing kidding me! I’m not effing Justin Bieber, you mother-effers!”

Noticing the band’s time had elapsed entirely, Armstrong shouted, “Now I have no time left! I’ve got nothing left! Let me show you what one minute means!” and smashed his guitar into at least two pieces (look for the mangled instrument in a glass case at a rock museum or memorabilia shop someday). Bassist Mike Dirnt slammed his guitar into the amps stacked behind him, hammering away enthusiastically as if he were a rockin’ lumberjack wielding a super-size hatchet.

The last we heard of Armstrong, he was shouting, “God effing love you all! We’ll be back!” as the audience roared. He’s right. Green Day returns to Las Vegas, to the MGM Grand, in fact, on Feb. 8. Tickets have sold very well for that show. After Friday night’s developments, the hotel might want to add a second date. And make sure to keep an eye on the clock.

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