Green Day performs at Irving Plaza on September 15, 2012 in New York City.
Matthew Eisman/Getty Images

Sometime around the two-hour mark of Green Day’s set at New York's Irving Plaza —after they’d purred through Lynyrd Skynyrd's “Sweet Home Alabama” but before donning feather boas to cover the Isley Brothers' “Shout”—singer Billie Joe Armstrong perched at the lip of the stage and grinned with camaraderie at his small, hysterical crowd. “We are so off script,” he yelled over the roar, “it is f--king amazing right now!” And then, to prove it further, he launched into “When I Come Around,” ad-libbing a rhyme about bassist Mike Dirnt being a dirty whore until they both convulsed in laughter. (The group's publicist confirmed that the band had strayed astoundingly from their pre-orchestrated setlist.)

As our raucous photos from the night prove, little felt predetermined at the punk veterans’ comically modest show on Saturday. The only note of obligation was in their reason for playing the venue: the much-anticipated show marked the launch of their partnership with Nokia Music, the smartphone company’s new streaming service, and hype the group’s upcoming album trilogy ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!,¡Tré!. On the ground floor, rabid Green Day fans ranging from teenagers to late-40s thrashed along to every lyric and breakneck guitar riff while music industry delegates crowded the open bar and schmoozed on the VIP second floor.

Those wise enough to descend to sea level were rewarded with an improbably urgent show that stretched half an hour past the promised two. The 38-song set was heavy with the band's earliest Dookie and Nimrod-era hits, a move that could have felt like deliberate pandering—like a gesture of phony grassroots remembrance in the tiny club—if it weren’t so enthusiastically delivered and so much fun to experience. (Those hoping for a preview of the upcoming trifecta of albums may have left disappointed, though I didn’t see one scowl in the house.) Instead, the room felt thick with happy disbelief; I heard more attendees remark “I’ve never seen them before” than any other show of recent memory, and the evening felt like a lucky inauguration.

Green Day opened with a faithfully hyper “Welcome to Paradise,” their second single from their breakthrough 1994 disc Dookie. There was a method to the madness: Armstrong and Dirnt recalled merrily that Irving Plaza was the first venue that Green Day ever performed in New York. “All I remember was that there was green vomit everywhere,” drawled Armstrong of the 1994 Saint Patrick’s Day set, smoothing down his red dress shirt and button-adorned black vest as Dirnt flicked his dubiously Bieber-ish blonde bangs. (Critical bias: the haircut would have been more than acceptable to this reporter’s 14-year-old self, who had a photo of him in her school binder.) After an improbable interlude of dancing from Armstrong, who delivered a sort of riverdance-cum-disco shuffle with arms flailing, they segued into new tracks “Nuclear Family” and “Stop When the Red Lights Flash,” which easily fit into the oldest fare with succinct guitars and barked refrains, especially the latter’s chorus of “I’ll make you surrender.”

The audience howled as Armstrong preened and provoked between nearly every song—“Do you wish I was your dad?” “Do you want a party or do you want a celebration? There’s a difference!”—and played split-second covers of “Stairway to Heaven” and AC/DC's “Highway to Hell.” (The latter included Armstrong’s bonus confession of how much he wanted to "nail" Sharon Osbourne when the band played “America’s Got No Talent.”) The more recent, power-pop singles did elicit happy responses—“St. Jimmy” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”from American Idiot in particular—but the most fervor was saved for the 90’s radio staples; “Hitchin’ a Ride” surged at a pluckier speed than on Nimrod, and “She” caused two separate people near me to headbang so hard, they spilled their beers and promptly slipped on them. “J.A.R. (Jason Andrew Relva)” and “409 in Your Coffeemaker” were similarly hurried.

Just when the show seemed to be winding down, Armstrong donned his feathery accoutrement and a fetishistic cop hat, leering like a burlesque pro. The group started in the pseudo-Klezmer ska-rock of “King for a Day,” replete with a cameo from a saxophonist in a pointed wizard’s cap, and into a lengthy cover of “Shout” mixed with “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Tre Cool, the band’s joyful maniac of a drummer, leapt over his kit and nearly smacked into touring guitarist Jason White; glittering pink bow headband in place, Cool barked through the first song’s chorus with wild-eyed furor. 

When Green Day finally packed it in—after a touchingly spare cover of “Wake Me Up When September Ends” and a two-song encore of “American Idiot” and the tetchy new “99 Revolutions”—they’d run amok for well over two and a half hours. As the audience began to stream out, sweaty and shouting over their ringing ears, there seemed a strong consensus that we’d seen something remarkable, something we were lucky the band had not forgotten. My teenage self would have approved.

Set list:

1. Welcome to Paradise
2. Murder City
3. Know Your Enemy
4. Nuclear Family
5. Stay the Night
6. Stop When the Red Lights Flash
7. Carpe Diem
8. Let Yourself Go
9. Kill the DJ
10. Oh Love
11. Holiday
12. Burnout
13. Hitchin' a Ride
14. Scattered
15. Letterbomb
16. Highway To Hell / Crazy Train
17. Brain Stew
18. St. Jimmy
19. Boulevard of Broken Dreams
20. 2000 Light Years Away
21. Only of You
22. Disappearing Boy
23. Christie Road
24. Coming Clean
25. 409 In Your Coffeemaker
26. J.A.R. (Jason Andrew Relva)
27. Brat
28. Stuck With Me
29. At the Library
30. Paper Lanterns
31. When I Come Around
32. She
33. F.O.D.
34. King for a Day
35. Shout / (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
36. Wake Me Up When September Ends
37. American Idiot
38. 99 Revolutions