FOXBOROUGH -- Is it possible to sell millions of records, win Grammy Awards, employ saxophones in your rock opera, and still be punk? Green Day leader Billie Joe Armstrong has wrestled with this dilemma for more than a decade -- on 1995's ''Insomniac," he skewered mall culture and his band's platinum-selling soundtrack to it -- and he's jousted as often with himself on this subject as with both the Berkeley trio's detractors and supporters.
But if punk has anything to do with a principled political stance leavened by self-mockery and a healthy sense of the absurd fed through loud, fast guitars, then Green Day is it. And, quite frankly, a universal triumph such as last year's ambitious ''American Idiot" makes the question moot. Instead, what Green Day has quite possibly become, to repeat the plaudit accorded the band by openers Jimmy Eat World, is ''the biggest band in the world."
They certainly played the part to the hilt during a careening two-hour set studded with hits, humor, and familiar high jinks. Armstrong called fans onstage to commandeer the band's instruments in a dreams-do-come-true display of audience solidarity, instigated stage dives and a few too many audience participation scream-alongs, and engaged in some hearty Bush bashing along the way. And if outsize showmanship wasn't enough to win over the skeptics, there was plenty of pyro and fireworks on hand to attest to the band's hugeness. Well, that and the lordly theme to ''2001: A Space Odyssey," which piped through the sound system as the band stormed the stage and a cartoonishly wild-eyed Armstrong emerged, raising his arms upward and outward, half symphony conductor, half stage diva, summoning adoration. It hit him like a tidal wave, rolling up from the floor and pouring down from the rafters.
Flanked by rubber-band flexible bassist Mike Dirnt and piston-powered drummer Tre Cool, Armstrong blasted with his electric guitar into the bracing anti-Bush administration title track from ''American Idiot," biting down deliberately hard and fierce on the inflammatory salvo ''I'm not part of a redneck agenda!" and flailing like a manic windup doll of taut twitches and stabbing snaps of the head that acted as exclamation marks. Although occasionally augmented by a second guitarist, pianist, and mini horn section that ably reflected Green Day's expanded sonic palette (or allowed Billie Joe to scamper freely), the core vitality of the music remained firmly with the trio.
Armstrong's sculpted power chords on the slew of ferociously disaffected anthems -- ''Jesus of Suburbia," ''Holiday," the old impudent roar of ''Longview" -- were blisteringly satisfying, much more so than the prom power ballads that constituted the band's biggest hits (somewhat ironic, given Green Day's punk pedigree). The poignant, new ''Wake Me Up When September Ends" -- which Armstrong dedicated to the victims of Hurricane Katrina -- was genuinely touching, despite an ocean of waving, lighted cellphones triggered in response. But ''Boulevard of Broken Dreams," humongous and clumsily pretty though it may be, remained as trite and maudlin as the mock portrait of Edward Hopper's ''Nighthawks" of the same name (a dorm room staple depicting James Dean, Marilyn, Elvis, and Humphrey Bogart at the famous coffee shop counter). Finally, Armstrong delivered the bathetic encore closer ''Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" solo, his guitar gently crunching around pastel verses about yearbooks and Kodak moments. The massive fireworks display was a welcome jolt back to life.
Openers Against Me! and Jimmy Eat World each delivered sets that seemed to refract Green Day's dual impulses. Against Me! started the show with old-school, Clash-derived punk that bristled with martial drumbeats and snarling guitars. Jimmy Eat World's brand of intensely melodic emo was urgent, high-adrenaline pop.