“This song is like if a Jimmy Eat World song had sex with a Taking Back Sunday song and their kid joined the Promise Ring,” Mark Hoppus said last night while introducing the 2001 hit “Stay Together for the Kids.” He then directed those in the audience who still sported “skater bangs from 2002” to brush them down, lock themselves in their rooms, and say, “Mom! This isn't a phase – this is me!”
Indeed, elements of Blink-182's show at Denver's Pepsi Center felt very 2002 – the roiling crowd on the floor and its sweet fist-pumping; Hoppus & Co.'s good-natured, offhand energy; and the songs themselves – delivered with the same frantic-yet-direct tempos and infectious pop-punk power chords. And then there was the couple standing in front of me, who were probably fourteen and so fucking excited to be there. Watching these two (and I'm sorry, guys, you probably saw me grinning at you like a maniacal babysitter), with their hair bleached a shade of Billie Joe Armstrong circa 1994, I was truly transported.
In 2002, I was one of those kids, dropped off by a friend's mom in a mini-van to finally – finally! – see my favorite band, Green Day, and my friends' favorite band, Blink-182, at a vast suburban amphitheater. As the future insufferable music critic I guess I was destined to be, I'd heard Dude Ranch and Enema of the State a few years before and had written off Blink-182 as class-clown goons ripping off my beloved Green Day. By 2002, however, I'd come around to Blink for seemingly contradictory reasons: Take Off Your Pants and Jacket's sonic and thematic maturation and the dick jokes, which now seemed familiar and transgressive to me. (Being fifteen is weird, right?)
Forgive my meander down memory lane, but isn't that what a band like this, in its current moment, asks us to do? This Blink show may have preserved a good portion of the magic of the band's heyday, but it was 2002 filtered through the Uncanny Valley of time and a major lineup change.
When Blink-182 blasted into set opener “Feeling This,” backed by giant fiery letters that spelled out “FUCK” (they gave us a literal flaming fuck), it kinda felt like old times. The relatively small, bare stage seemed more accessible to the audience than at other arena shows, the lighting setup hung low enough to reference the claustrophobic clubs Blink played long ago, and the band appeared as a three-piece with no extra instruments or ornamentation. Except fire. So much fire. Explosions, bursts of flame and curtains of sparks continued throughout the show, mostly serving to punctuate the ever-tight, technical-yet-expressive, world-class drumming of Travis Barker. The set was snappy as ever, with Hoppus filling in short breaths between songs with wry remarks, like a grown-punk Paul McCartney.
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The set list spanned twenty years of Blink discography, dedicating equal play to tracks from Enema, Take Off and Blink-182, peppering the set with favorite skit songs like “Family Reunion,” which is a litany of repeated dirty words culminating in the harmonized line “I fucked your mom.” Blink played “Dammit,” of course (I guess this is growing up, n-na-na), as well as “Miss You,” and everyone in the audience made out (no joke — so many tongues). The band also modestly introduced new songs from this summer's California, to which the cute sub-punks in front of me mouthed every word.
The new songs fit seamlessly into the Blink catalogue – more expansive and hard-rock-edged without being pompous, as is sometimes the direction taken by “legacy” bands – and these tracks allowed new guitarist and co-vocalist Matt Skiba to find a niche. During the rest of the set, however, it was hard not to notice the absence of Tom DeLonge, band co-founder, co-songwriter and co-frontman. After years of hiatus and focus on side projects, DeLonge officially left the band in early 2015 and was replaced by Skiba of Alkaline Trio. The split with DeLonge has been both a heart-wrenching mess and a “friendly divorce,” but we hear that he's fine now (really, totally fine). Skiba's got cred and chops and fills in DeLonge's parts while neither parodying the original vocalist nor asserting a deliberately different take. It's a tricky dynamic to manage: Blink-182 seems interested in delivering to fans faithful versions of the songs they love while acknowledging that things change, and that art often lasts longer than the relationships that created it.
More than DeLonge's distinctive nasally vocals (“voice inside my yeeead”), it was that relationship between him and Hoppus – or at least their old on-stage dynamic – that was missing at last night's show: that of bantering brothers, the goofy inside jokes piled deep, two irreverent troublemakers who can still call bullshit on the arenas they play in, simultaneously egging on and looking out for one another.
Did the teenaged couple in front of me note a difference? Did they wish they had been old enough (or even born) in the late ’90s to catch Blink-182 on the way up? I don't think so. See, we keep getting older, but the songs stay the same age. As I snuck glances at them (again, sorry), bopping arrhythmically against each other and sneaking touches – I doubted they wanted to be anywhere but here and now. Whether it's a phase or it's who they are, as Hoppus said, that's a rare, fleeting feeling, and I hope they feel it forever. Forever. And ever.