blink-182 at Not So Silent Night 2016, by SarahJayn Kemp

blink-182 (photo: SarahJayn Kemp)

The Blink-182 Greatest Hits CD was the first album I ever purchased on my own. I downloaded the LP from the iTunes Store after my sister took me to their massive reunion tour in 2009. It was my first concert — a lengthy four-band amphitheater affair filled with soaring mall-pop harmonies and plenty of dick jokes — and in the days following I held onto the memory of it feverishly. I spent this time learning as much of Blink’s catalog on guitar as I could, and then later ripped my public library’s copies of the band’s most popular albums so I could listen offline rather than rely on YouTube and my family’s spotty Wi-Fi. Blink-182 was my first ever band obsession, and while I've aged a long ways from that adolescent moment when I first fell in love, the group has remained an integral component of my story today and the source of a significant percentage of my bouts of nostalgia. Only a few months ago, either in tribute or shameless self-defense, I spent over 6,000 words immortalizing them on Stereogum.

So was I excited to experience the band one more time — seven years after my initial introduction — this past Friday at the first of Live 105's back-to-back Not So Silent Nights? Well yes, but cautiously. See, the Blink that now performs nationally to arena-sized audiences of the soon-to-be middle-aged and a endlessly replenishing class of middle-schoolers is incomplete. Unlike the first time co-founding member and UFO-truther Tom DeLonge rage-quit due to a lack of fulfillment, this most recent ejection from the band was more of a long overdue firing. It's a bittersweet reality for Blink fans, because Tom was evidently acting as dead weight to the group — splitting his time between either molding them into his side project Angels & Airwaves or preventing them from touring, recording, and doing the rest of the activities you do as an active popular band.

Nonetheless, Tom is without a doubt an integral component of Blink-182. He wrote half the songs and is arguably the more distinct vocal presence. His guitar work evolved from album to album but was always dexterous and yearning, and no matter how his current replacement Matt Skiba tries to maintain the band's sonic profile he simply can't do what DeLonge did within the strict confines of pop-punk. So while I was thrilled to hear some of the most beloved songs of my youth once more after over a half a decade, I couldn't help but bemoan that this was a fractured band and I had to taper my expectations.

Which is why I was I was genuinely shocked that my initial reaction when Skiba kicked off the set opener “Feeling This” was a measured pleasure. The Alkaline Trio frontman was a remarkably adept tonal replacement, maintaining a nasal pitch noticeably outside of his typical timbre that somehow didn’t sound particularly forced. Yet it was apparent soon enough that where Skiba managed to replicate the impression of DeLonge, he wasn’t able to convey the same energy. What’s become the defining facet of DeLonge’s approach goes beyond his squawking tone — for better or worse, it’s his insistent melodrama. Skiba was dutiful, but he wasn’t urgent, and that simply won’t cut it when you’re trying to sell teenage angst as anthems to those who have aged out of those years. Blink-182 in 2016 reminds me of what I imagine experiencing Sublime With Rome is like: about as close as you’re going to get, but with the acknowledgement that you are unequivocally settling for less.

Skiba’s lack of danger isn’t simply unsatisfactory in his service as a stand-in for DeLonge, but additionally as a foil for Mark Hoppus. Hoppus has always played the straight man to DeLonge, whether it’s been to the latter’s early hedonism or his late-period grandiosity. That proved a fruitful dynamic, with Hoppus acting as the anchor of the group holding down the structure before either Travis Barker or DeLonge came to bend everything in another direction. Hoppus is reserved by necessity, but when Skiba stays within the same lane he makes Hoppus sounds simply tired and uninteresting. For songs that are predominantly Hoppus taking the lead, such as “The Rock Show” and “I Won’t Be Home For Christmas,” the band seemed as proficient as ever and carried with them the same irreverent excitement that fans remembered from years past. But on tracks that rely on the interaction between the two vocalists contrasting styles, such as “Violence” and “I Miss You,” they performed significantly under expectation.

Truly the biggest surprise to me from the evening was just how well the songs from the band’s most recent album and first DeLonge-less project California came across. This was the material that the three members on stage had actively written, and subsequently were the songs that felt most natural live rather than simply reinterpretations. The modern rock intensity of “Los Angeles” did right with a sound that didn’t quite gel when the band tried it on 2009’s DeLonge finale Neighborhoods, meanwhile joke tunes such as “Built This Pool” and “Brohemian Rhapsody” were enjoyable interjections of the band’s trademark humor packed into sugar-packet bursts. I had pegged Blink’s headlining set and continued popularity as built on stubborn nostalgia, but perhaps there was a more admirable reason that California debuted at number one and scored the group their first alternative chart topper in more than a decade. While the band’s attempt to fit the mold of the Blink of yore felt demonstrably flat, their contemporary work shone as diamonds within the inevitably perceived rough of a pop-punk band approaching three decades into their career.

This is the silver lining in the ongoing story of Blink-182. While I had to concede that I would no longer have the opportunity to relive the euphoria of my childhood moment with the band, turning around from my endless looking back revealed a startlingly potent alt-rock outfit delivering music that hit many of the same pressure points as they did in their prime. Ultimately, Blink-182 last Friday were as enjoyable and volatile as they’ve ever been. The songs may have changed, but the band’s remained the same.

Set List:
Feeling This
What's My Age Again?
Family Reunion
The Rock Show
Cynical
First Date
Down
I Miss You
Bored To Death
Built This Pool
Dumpweed
She’s Out Of Her Mind
I Won’t Be Home For Christmas
Kings of the Weekend
Violence
Happy Holidays You Bastard
Los Angeles

Encore:
All The Small Things
Brohemion Rhapsody
Dammit

Photos by SarahJayn Kemp

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