The re-union of the year – Blink and you’ll miss it
The prospect of pop-punk powerhouse Blink-182 ever reuniting with founding vocalist/guitarist Tom DeLonge has been a pipe-dream amongst the fan base for many a moon. Following the trio’s initial hiatus after the release of their genre-defining self-titled fifth album, internal strife would lead to a disbanding which saw DeLonge form alternative space rock collective Angels & Airwaves whilst bassist/vocalist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker would start +44 (who only released one subsequent and excellent album with 2007’s When Your Heart Stops Beating).
After Barker’s 2008 plane crash only spared him and one other survivor; Adam “DJ AM” Goldstein, who would tragically pass away from a drug overdose only the following year, the three members would regroup, put old grievances aside and plug on with their criminally underrated 2011 Neighbourhoods LP and the Dogs Eating Dogs EP released in 2012. With DeLonge’s priorities stretched between music, his work with members of NASA (more on that later) as well as his multimedia works from film to literature, so much time was consumed that eventually when offered an ultimatum to prioritise Blink, he opted to leave yet again, with Hoppus and Barker deciding to continue the project this time around with the addition of Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba slotting in to fulfil guitar and vocal duties.
The Skiba Era (as it has since been dubbed) proved a much divisive time within the fan camps as while there were those happy to see Blink moving at a more consistent pace yet again, many felt DeLonge’s presence too looming and singular to be replaced, leading to mixed reception to both full-lengths crafted with Skiba. 2016’s California and the most recent 2019 follow up Nine, may have delivered on standard pop-punk fare delivered with glossy production and finesse, but the chasm of the absence left by one of their founders always seemed too large to ignore.
It was only after news broke of Hoppus’ battle with a rare form of lymphoma that the members would meet in secret to touch base, air out any remaining tension and think about their futures. Following Hoppus going into remission and beating cancer, soon after it was announced that Skiba would amicably step aside to allow DeLonge to resume his rightful place as part of the group, with Skiba personally thanking the band for his tenure, and highlighting his own genuine excitement for the classic line up’s return. In turn, DeLonge reached out to Skiba to thank him for keeping the band alive in his absence. All of a sudden, the pipe-dream had become a reality and fans the world over didn’t know what to do with themselves over the joyous news.
Tonight marks the first of two instantaneously sold out shows at London’s O2 Arena, with support coming from Walnut Creek emotive pop-punk outfit The Story So Far. Frontman Parker Cannon makes it’s known to those in attendance that the biggest Blink fans in the entire venue are those standing on stage, which is no surprise when factoring in that it was likely Cannon’s appearance on Mark Hoppus’ podcast last year to promote his hardcore adjacent skate punk project No Pressure, which led to The Story So Far’s inclusion on such an illustrious tour.
Ripping through a myriad of anthemic bangers from their four full-lengths, whilst placating “the old heads here who have no idea who we are” with a cover of genre-staple ‘No Cigar’ by pop-punk Swedes Millencollin, there’s a nuanced familiarity to their sound which allows even the most alien of listener to connect. While their Oasis-turned-dream-pop ballad ‘Upside Down’ inspires the traditional mass phone-in-place-of-lighter phenomenon, their brand new single ‘Big Blind’ bursts through the state-of-the-art sound system, trading the band’s sound from once dingy, stagedive abounding clubs to area surroundings they take to with remarkable finesse. Tight, focused, energetic and succinct, the band clear the space as quickly as they came on with a notable urgency to catch the same highly anticipated set still to come.
There’s an absurd hilarity to a trio of pop-punk musicians well into their late forties/early fifties, who largely made a name for themselves due to their unrelenting level of low brow, juvenile humour, strolling onto stage to the accompanying score of ‘Also sprach Zarathustra, op. 30’ by Richard Strauss. It provides an obnoxiously (self-aware) grandiose level of faux postering before the opening snare roll and lullaby melody of Take Off Your Pants & Jacket opener ‘Anthem Pt. 2’ creeps upon the literal thousands of anticipatory ears. While it’s always served as a reliable set opener, there’s something notably cathartic at this later era, of fans of a wide age range screaming back in unison the now classic counterculture refrain of – “If we’re fucked up, you’re to blame”.
Continuing to focus on their fourth LP for the sugar-coated buoyant frenzy of ‘The Rock Show’ before we’re reminded of just how little DeLonge and Hoppus have genuinely grown up with the arrival of fan favourite live album deep cut ‘Family Reunion’ (made up entirely of playground curses), there’s a strong sense that the somewhat self-appointed man-children of an entire movement have figured out how to mature, realign, rehearse, refocus and become their best live selves yet, all whilst refusing to act their age in way, shape or form.
While lunging through a career spanning, near 30-track set of material that does its best to nod to every previous and subsequent era of the band, notable attention is paid to the iconic trilogy run of 1999’s Enema Of The State, the aforementioned 2001 smash hit Take Off Your Pants & Jacket, and their much darker 2003 self-titled affair. ‘Feeling This’ and ‘Violence’ have never sounded so nuanced, poured over or intense in a live setting, while snot-nosed bangers such as ‘Dysentery Gary’ and ‘Dumpweed’ are delivered with such crispy punch that it’s evident how seasoned these punks chops have become, aging like wine rather than turning to vinegar.
A portion of the set is then allotted to casting a light on their much hyped upcoming ninth album One More Time (their first full-length with DeLonge since 2011, making this his seventh entry). The pummelling and energetic ‘More Than You Know’ evokes the post-hardcore flourishes of DeLonge’s short-lived Box Car Racer project, while the eerie piano lines, frenetic riffage and double bass kicks from Travis Barker are executed with majorly increased precision, highlighting the clear fact that trio have not come to play around (i.e. they’re aware they had to pull out all the stops to give fans their money’s worth). ‘Edging’ provides a playful singalong but ‘Dance With Me’ is the banger of the evening, with DeLonge’s fretwork and the irritatingly catchy “Olé!” refrain working overtime to send the crowd into united joviality.
From there, we take another dive into deep cut/hit single territory with the now eerily timely ‘Aliens Exist’ which DeLonge would pen decades before he would end up liaising with members of NASA to provide some of the first irrefutable proof of UFOs to the US government (which were recently expanded upon by whistleblowers). Then that very same government liaison tears through the beautifully foul forty-second ‘Happy Holidays, You Bastard’, which they opt to then play a second time at double speed. It’s all very silly, and self-centred, and above all else, endearingly hilarious, with DeLonge repeatedly shouting “Nobody can do what we do!” We’re then provided with a rare yet palpable moment of sobering reflection whilst Hoppus details, with little to no humour, the extent of his cancer battle, the subsequent depression and genuine anxiety that he would never see a stage, tour, audience or his original bandmates in such a capacity again. It’s an inspiring moment of peaking behind the curtain of the trademark Blink shitheadedness for just a brief respite, before Hoppus pulls the crowd out of this cavern of misery by declaring this part of the set “the emo section”, encouraging fans to pull out their skinniest jeans, brush down their fringes over one eye, and bellow in cathartic unison to the their broken home ballad ‘Stay Together For The Kids’, immediately followed by The Cure-indebted synth-pop ode ‘Always’, the grunge-tinged banger ‘Down’, and then a respectful nod to Matt Skiba’s time in the band with a rendition of California lead single ‘Bored To Death’, which DeLonge fits so compositionally snug, it’s almost as if it was written for him (which it was, in essence).
Nodding to their overlooked Neighbourhoods with the gritty punch of ‘Up All Night’ and the melancholic electro-pop cut ‘Ghost On The Dancefloor’, before dusting off the serene and crushingly depressing anthem ‘Adam’s Song’ for its first live UK rendition in 20 years, the final leg of the set restores the saccharine sugar rush devoid from this darker emo-phase, with a career highlight run smash-condensed into four non-stop bangers: ‘What’s My Age Again?’ sums up the entire evening’s mantra of maturing whilst boasting a refusal to grow up before ‘First Date’ reminds many of their youthful days of early relationships and likely first time discovering the trio and pop-punk as a global movement. ‘All The Small Things’ is literally one of the biggest pop songs in history, and few words will do justice to the Taylor Swift/One Direction level response this ditty still evokes in its listeners, with pyrotechnics, confetti and mass singalong chants ensuing, before the oldest of cuts arises with the only ‘Dude Ranch’ single, the hit that first began their groundswell to pop-punk juggernauts – ‘Dammit’, which again, with its repeated refrain of “Well, I guess this is growing up”, provides a succinct and retrospective lens to view the band’s classic material, their legacy and resurgence through, elevating youthful, coming of age skate-punk bangers to lifelong reflections, yet still delivered with the urgency of adolescence.
Briefly vacating the stage before returning to offer up the title-track from their upcoming One More Time as encore, it’s a genuinely impressive feat and indicative of Blink’s mass resonance and relevance that a single released less than a month prior already has the staying power of 20,000 people in cathartic singalong, as if it’s a track that has been with them for years. With its minimal composition, delicate piano line, acoustic strumming and poignant analysis of their friendship, career and interpersonal struggles all the way up to this point, it’s an ideal closer which promises the myriad fanbase that their sentiments ring true. Life moves on, time is not returned, and there likely won’t be another opportunity for the classic line-up of Blink-182 to run a victory lap around their legacy, right their wrongs and offer their devout, faithful fanbase one last collective musical effort. DeLonge, Hoppus and even Barker (who has a rare backing vocal addition) appear sincere when they sing in unison that they don’t want to wait to do this one more time. A night full of swearing, juvenile jokes, sobering reflections, cathartic singalongs, and a genuinely impressive and rejuvenated performance from the greatest and biggest pop-punk act of their era, or any era; from the 12-year-old newcomer to the 40-year-old lifer parent alike, tonight is one for the books.