Billie Joe Armstrong does bill himself as a punk-rocker. So swearing, ranting, cussing out Justin Bieber, cussing out the audience and organizers, and smashing guitars are pretty much par for the course. Right?
Billie Joe Armstrong smashes his guitar at the iHeartRadio Festival (Getty Images)Still, there was something about Armstrong's tantrum on Friday night—which was either a meltdown or classic piece of rock & roll theatricality, depending on your viewpoint—that went above and beyond the call of punk duty and should go down in Green Day history. It'll certainly be long remembered by anyone who was attending the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas, as well as plenty of the millions who were watching Yahoo!'s live webcast.
The Friday night bill was full of superstars allotted 25-to-30 minute sets, including No Doubt, Usher, Jason Aldean, and Bon Jovi. The exception was Rihanna, whose post-midnight closing set, full of elaborate, Egyptian-themed production values, was slotted for 45 minutes. But at 11:55, 21 minutes into their half-hour, Armstrong, looking at the Teleprompter that counted down Green Day's remaining time, started in on his nuclear-level freakout. ""They say we got nine minutes left! I say boo to that f---ing s---!"
It's not as if Armstrong had been particularly circumspect or chaste up to this point. He'd repeatedly berated the few people in the otherwise excitable MGM Grand who deigned to sit down during the band's set. Green Day had already premiered a self-proclaimedly "dirty" new song called "It's F--- Time." He'd already pulled his pants down to revealing but not-quite-obscene levels, letting everyone in the live audience know about his personal grooming habits. And for the webcast editors and home viewing audience, this was pretty much the reason close-ups were invented.
But during the last 10 minutes of their set, his ire seemed to appear less like rouse-the-masses schtick and more like actual pique. The band launched into a revered oldie, then Armstrong interrupted it to say they'd rather end on a new song—and then they just stopped playing altogether as the clock ran out. "I've been around since 19-f--ing-88!" he bellowed near the end. "And you're gonna give me one minute? I'm not f---ing Justin Bieber, you mother---ers. This is a f---ing joke!" There could only be one proper climax at this point, and it was to say goodnight and God bless. Just kidding. No, it was for the band to smash their guitars before angrily storming off.
Armstrong in happier times, early in the set (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)Is it possible no one in management bothered to tell Green Day ahead of time they had a half-hour slot, just like (almost) every other headliner on the bill? Not likely. (Although it was being spun within hours on Gawker, Perez Hilton, and other websites that the band's set had been "cut short by 20 minutes" because Usher went over—not true.) Is it possible Armstrong knew this was good theater and bound to get them into the news cycle three days before the release of their long-awaited new album? Who could be so cynical! Is it possible there were libations backstage, and. when you combine that with a general attitude of raging against the machine... snit happens? Stranger perfect storms have happened!
The reactions in our Twitter feed couldn't have been more polarized. Green Day's volatile set was the best thing ever! Worst thing ever! No, best! No. worst! This much is clear: Whatever Armstrong may have he'd been robbed of when it came to respect or time, he won big-time when it came to getting everyone's attention.
Even without Green Day throwing a wrench in the machine, there was plenty of planned stuff for live attendees and home viewers to yak about about during the iHeartRadio Music Festival's five-hour-plus opening night:
Gwen and Pink's mutual mere-girl admiration society (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Clear Channel)* Also promoting an album due next week, the reunited No Doubt opened the show with a strong half-hour of vintage hits—and one new song, the clearly autographically titled "Looking Hot." How Gwen Stefani keeps her trim midriff as a mom became clearer: when we're not looking (and in this case, when we were), she sprints through arenas.
The cross-collateral highlight of the night arrived when P!nk came out to join Stefani for a duet of "Just a Girl." Said P!nk, "She's the raddest f---ing girl in the world, isn't she?" At the end of the number, the guest singer put two fingers to her forehead to demonstrate just how high "had it up to here" is... and then, inevitably, used those same two fingers to offer a heartfelt salute to Stefani.
(And how different it was, on a night that would later be commandeered by Billie Joe, to see someone offering a two-finger salute.)
* Lil Wayne's galvanizing set was so filled with unprintable language, it almost made his presence at a "radio"-themed event seemed incongruous, though he did eventually get to the ballads that are more easily rendered FCC-friendly. "I am your hip-hop fix for tonight," he announced early in his set, smiling. "So excuse all the cuss words." Weirdly, he seemed humble and almost apologetic about this, as if he were apologizing to a favorite auntie for the fact that he was about to unleash some explicit language in the family living room.
Weirdly, again, no one seemed more profusely grateful to be on the MGM Grand stage than Lil Wayne, who, if you ignored the risible content of the songs themselves, suddenly seemed like the sweetest guy in the business. He seemed particularly proud to have the forum to play his new song, "No Worries," excerpts of which can hardly be reprinted here; suffice it to say that it is pleasures of the flesh that have relieved Weezy's anxiety.
Usher at iHeartRadio Fest (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Clear Channel)* Usher had one of the better received sets of the night... and certainly no one made more use of pyro, steam blasts, the big, big LED screens, and an extensive laser light show while also managing to maintain some soul. All the technical effects reinforced the sense that Usher has been moving in an EDM direction, with his new single, "Numb," being a primary, solid example.
Usher's set briefly overlapped with a 10-minute mini-set by Swedish House Mafia, as they joined up for the recent summer jam "Euphoria." "This will be their last album together," Usher said of his Mafia compadres. "I'm trying to convince 'em otherwise."
* Country corker Miranda Lambert used a portion of her half-hour to bring out her side group, the Pistol Annies, for two numbers. The happiest Annie, no doubt, was Ashley Monroe, whose engagement to Chicago White Sox pitcher John Danks had been announced less than a week earlier. The camera got sight of the new sparkler on Monroe's left hand, the biggest bling of the night. When Monroe convincingly sang "I'm gonna break me a million hearts" at the end of the Annies' "Hell on Heels," let's hope Danks knows she's a kidder.
Rihanna at the iHeartRadio Festival (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Clear Channel)* After Green Day angrily (or mock-angrily?) exited the stage, Rihanna closed out the evening with a set 15 minutes longer than anyone else's. (Could a foreknowledge of that allowance be what really raised Billie Joe's ire?) She spent some of that time sitting in the lap of a sphinx, though some home viewers were probably most intrigued when a camera at a low angle kept promising to offer a good view of France beneath the very short jersey she was wearing. But she wasn't pulling a Britney on us. At 1:15 a.m., the night ended with pop's currently most reliable hit maker singing "We found love in a hopeless place," as some of the revelers headed out to the casinos to find out the true meaning of hopelessness for themselves.
Hard as it is to fathom, that was literally only the half of it. The action resumes tonight at 7:30 PT/10:30 ET, when Pink re-takes the stage for her own headlining set. Will she be upside down at some point? Is the Pope Catholic? Is the Cirque French-Canadian?
Others on Saturday's bill: Taylor Swift, Aerosmith, Brad Paisley, Linkin Park, and Pitbull. Will Taylor smash her acoustic guitar when the Prompter reveals she only has a minute left to rush through "Sixteen"? Tune in at iheart.yahoo.com!