From their early days in 1992 on through to last night in Mansfield, MA, Blink-182 have never pretended to be anything other than they are. The pop-punk icons climbed their way through the ranks over the decades, and now, with their comeback album California in tow, it’s easy to question their relevancy. How do dick jokes hold up when you’ve got a kid who’s old enough to understand them? How are riffs two decades after they’ve been written? Are tongue-in-cheek lyrics straight-up campy now? If you take yourself seriously, sure, but Blink-182 know how to balance intent and spirit for the perfect outcome. After guitarist Tom DeLonge up and left (or was kicked out, depending on whose story you follow), bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker brought Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio on board to fill his shoes before recording this year’s LP. The result is a punchy return to the early ’00s sound they captured well, and live, it launches into the party they refuse to stop throwing.
Blink-182 aren’t afraid of changes. Instead of shying away from DeLonge’s songs, the band tore through a slew of songs that featured Skiba on front vocals. “First Date,” “Reckless Abandon,” and the neverending “I Miss You” felt fresh. Surprising inclusions like “Not Now” kept their depth. Even “Dumpweed,” a song that otherwise rides on the bond of a trio in full force from 1999, felt like a trio hitting their stride, not a few original members with a new guy filling in. By forcing themselves to refine their identities, old songs held up in 2016, even if AIM screen names and parking lot parties are a thing of the past in their personal lives.
Skiba held his own on DeLonge songs. Perhaps the reason they dove into the pile was because he lacks the often over-the-top potty humor DeLonge brings to the stage. Last time Blink-182 came through, DeLonge threw up more middle fingers than two hands seem capable of, often extending jokes too far and harping on jokes that hit their end quickly, leaving Hoppus hanging to recover both for themselves and for the youth in the crowd. Skiba stayed in place, occasionally leaving his microphone stand to pace the stage. Shoving him into material where he’s required to upkeep the spotlight kept Skiba on his toes, essentially denying him room to wallow in DeLonge’s lows, which, as they proved, was a smart call.
For all of Skiba’s otherwise absent humor, Blink-182 dipped into their catalogue for quick comedy cuts. Two songs into the set, they busted out “Family Reunion.” Several songs later came 17-second number “Built This Pool” and, just before the end of the set, the raunchy, awkward incest jokes of “Happy Holidays, You Bastard” (which Hoppus prefaced with a prolonged intro prepping the crowd for what would be “A concert story they cherish and pass on to their grandchildren”).
California sees Blink-182 recalling their older style, but the album sees a few songs get lost in compressed vocals and hyper-polished production. Live, the three fixed those issues seemingly without struggle. The album’s title-track, one that feels drawn out on record, hurled forward with energy. The anthemic snooze of “Los Angeles” felt powerful. Even “San Diego” held its own. Pyrotechnics certainly help keep things entertaining, but even without them, Blink-182 were able to perform their material in a way that kept viewers on edge, including those who had yet to grab a copy of California a few weeks earlier.
By the time they launched into a starry encore of “Carousel,” “All The Small Things,” “Brohemian Rhapsody,” and “Dammit,” Blink-182 were on top of their game. So much so that the silence that followed their earliest hit deafened those still standing in their seats. Blink-182 are best at and always have been best at pop punk when leaning into the latter side of the genre. Their melodies stand the test of time, as proven by a crowd that spanned generations, but they withstand chances, enough so to merit a sold out show with two of three original members. In fact, it’s easy to wonder if they should have kicked DeLonge out earlier, if not for themselves, then for the fans, as a stadium full of onlookers fell in love with their middle school heroes all over again.
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