In the 1990s, Blink-182 seemed like Green Day’s juvenile younger sibling. Both wielded no more than three furious power chords per song, but Poway, California’s skate punks were notably brighter than their East Bay brethren. Blink-182 sounded like never-ending summers spent loitering in skate parks, scrawling penises on train carriages, and having your loser heart broken because you’re an immature jackass. As bassist Mark Hoppus sings on the group’s breakout 1997 hit Dammit, “Well I guess this is growing up”.
And grow up, they did. The 2000s held fallings out, embittered side projects, a hiatus, and even a fatal plane crash. After a reunion and the consequential departure of original guitarist Tom DeLonge in 2015 to focus on matters regarding UFOs (not kidding), the remaining members found themselves at an impasse: do they pack it in, or carry on? Opting for the latter, the renewed Blink have since been keen to show they’re not too old for the puerile humour of their golden years. Just as Feeling This kicks off the show, the curtain drops and reveals a giant flaming “FUCK”. It’s magnificently stupid – the kind of thing a bored schoolboy would etch on the back of his maths workbook – which is exactly what you want from Blink-182. Eye-watering pyrotechnics and American Pie-esque gags swamp tonight’s performance, but when the initial thrill wears off, it all starts to look contrived. Hoppus is the only lively member, jaunting about grinning like he’s on children’s television, as Tom DeLonge’s permanent replacement Matt Skiba plays stoically under the peak of his cap. But at their finer moments, they’re great entertainers – especially the relentlessly virtuosic drummer Travis Barker, easily one of the best in the business, if not merely the best musician in Blink-182 – all too happy to give the fans what they want. At one point, a young audience member is brought up to play bass on a song, for which he is visibly chuffed. Yes, Green Day have been doing it for years, but for a band to be so invested in the dedication of their fans is to see them understand precisely the agents of their legacy.
Back in the early 2000s, the group outdid themselves with a difficult leap from chortling frat boys to “proper artists” with their 2003 self-titled album, a far weirder record than a pop punk group had any right to make. Slack guitar strings thwacked on Violence; spoken word interludes preceded songs with names like Stockholm Syndrome and Down; Always featured wavy Cure synths, as Robert Smith’s pained moan beefed up the pathos on All of This. Tonight’s career-spanning set is thankfully just that, but the discord of Blink-182 is lost in live transition. Pre-pretentiousness fan favourites are bouncy and manic but, more often than not, cringingly dated. Blink and their die-hards are too misty-eyed to care about the boorish homophobia and sexism of Dysentery Gary, What’s My Age Again?, and Dumpweed.
But the tenderness of the group’s classic material shows they’ve always been serious about nobler things. All the Small Things is still one of the best pop punk love songs ever written, and set closer Dammit – the only tune tonight from their low-key best album Dude Ranch – is a snapshot of youth and its endless oscillation between world-crushing heartbreak and sunny optimism. Beyond all the boneheaded humour and boner gags, it’s joyous to relive this version Blink-182 – the band at their absolute best.