Blink-182 kicked off their first UK tour in nine years with two sold out shows at London’s O2 Arena with a blistering 27-song set that made us forget our age (again) and delighted our inner adolescent. Despite 2023 starting off with the announcement that Panic! At the Disco were officially disbanding, pop punk is definitely not dead. With both Paramore and Fall Out Boy hitting the UK album charts at number 1 & 3 and one of the biggest new artists, Olivia Rodrigo, fully embracing the genre, there is definitely still a place firmly in the public consciousness for it.
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So at first glance it’s no surprise to see one of the biggest American bands of the last 30 years – Blink-182 – headlining the biggest arena in the nation’s capital. However as I sit watching a white line slowly drawing the band’s instantly recognisable smiley logo on the big screen behind the stage, it’s remarkable that all three of the original members of the Southern California pop punk band are still here. After a 2008 plane crash in which four people died left Travis Barker with burns on over 60% of his body, Tom Delonge left the band in 2015 to focus on matters away from music – one of those rumoured to be proving the existence of aliens – and Mark Hoppus being delivered a devastating cancer diagnosis in 2021.
Even last month, this very UK Tour was in jeopardy after drummer Barker had to return home for a family emergency in which his wife, Kourtney Kardashian, underwent emergency fetal surgery. But the band are here and show gets underway when the trio run on stage and dive right into Anthem Part Two, the first song from the band’s fourth album, Take Off Your Pants And Jacket. Barker puts his sticks to the skies between drum fills and Hoppus, wearing a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, runs around the diamond-shaped stage with his pink bass. Pure joy from both band and crowd as they go into The Rock Show, also from the 2001 record. The 47-year-old drummer ending the song with a 20 second drum solo filled delivered with more beats than most could do in 2 minutes!
Man Overboard, a song that refers to the group’s original drummer Scott Raynor and how he was fired from the band after his heavy alcohol consumption, follows before the first big crowd involvement of the chorus of Feeling This, sung with abandon and joy by the thousands in attendance as circle pits start to open on the North Greenwich floor and the vocalists harmonise the tune’s closing lines. Violence, from their 2003 self titled record, produces a drumming masterclass where the shirtless Travis gets blindfolded half way through the song and continues to play, never missing a beat.
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Whilst the hits are timeless, some things haven’t necessarily aged well and the near 50 year olds making frat boy “Your Mom” jokes and quite basic toilet-humour shared between Tom & Mark is a little cringy. It’s silly, it’s juvenile and it doesn’t always land – partly because they kept talking over each other. Or their self-titled national anthem Family Reunion, a 34 second filled swear-hymn based on the George Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words comedy routine ending with streamers bursting into the crowd to the last line of “I fucked your mom.” But would we want them to change? Absolutely not! And neither did the crowd of thirty and forty somethings who have grown up with them for most of their lives.
Dumpweed was the first from Blink’s 1999 breakthrough album Enema Of The State played tonight and was accompanied by a floating ambulance with a cartoon of the album cover on the side. After a trio of new singles from their upcoming ninth studio album, Aliens Exist ends with a mocked-up cartoon newspaper with the headline “He Was Right”, a nod to Tom’s intrigue into the extra-terrestrial. This was swiftly followed by the Christmas punk track Happy Holidays, You Bastard which was played twice; the second time at double the speed with the rockers flexing their punk muscles.
Whilst the two guitarists ad-libbed various nonsensical statements, the crew were quietly attaching cables to the platform of Travis’s drum kit and he was hoisted 15 feet in the air, to 2003’s Down – the irony of which was not lost on this audience member and something I found funnier than most of their pubescent vulgarity.
The night was not just all banter and double entendre however, there were moments of poignancy. The first moment of sincerity of the night was the self proclaimed emo anthem, Stay Together For The Kids and then the haunting depression ballad of I Miss You, which saw The O2 lit by a sea of phone torches.
“I wrote this song at a time when I didn’t want to live anymore” Mark says, introducing Adam’s Song which he then emotionally linked to his health diagnosis 2 years ago. “This tour, this band and everyone of you are saving my life a second time.”
The band came back out for an encore comprising solely of the title track to their new album One More Time, but it was the electrifying run of songs before the band left the stage that will be long remembered in the memories of all of those in attendance beginning with What’s My Age Again? where a giant inflatable bunny was revealed – a homage to their original band logo from the early 90’s. First Date, and All the Small Things had 20,000 singing along to every word as lasers hit every part of the arena ending a quite fantastic pyro display before finishing with Dammit from their 1997 record Dude Ranch, which featured a brief tease of Taylor Swift’s 2012 earworm We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.
Music is often a great way to escape the realities of the outside world. Tonight, Blink-182 gave us a night of silliness, reducing the anxieties of modern middle aged life and returned us to the adolescent’s who drank in these anthems that shaped us. Regardless of how much we may have matured, it’s comforting that this Peter Pan band never grew up. What is my age again?
Review of Blink-182 at London’s O2 Arena on 12th October 2023 by Chris Lambert. Photography by Simon Reed.