At first glance, you wouldn’t think that hard rock legends Van Halen and pop punk band Blink 182 have much in common. As far as sound goes, that’s pretty much the case, the two bands are worlds apart in terms of genre and their respective fan bases. However, what they have in common is something much more fundamental. In 1986 Van Halen had become one of the most popular bands of their generation, but a nasty divorce between lead singer David Lee Roth and the rest of the band left them in a tough spot. That’s when they turned to Sammy Hagar and began a new chapter of Van Halen. Rather than replacing Roth with someone who sounded like him and trying to continue on as if nothing had changed, they branched out and created a whole new era of the band.
Fast forward to 2016 and another band, in a different corner of the rock world, Blink 182; much like Van Halen and their popularity in late 70’s to mid 80’s, Blink 182 dominated what was rock’s most popular genre in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, pop punk. With four platinum albums all released between 1997 and 2003 there are few bands from the era with as much commercial success. And much like Van Halen before them, Blink 182 also went through a nasty divorce with their lead singer, Tom DeLonge, not once, but twice. The first time DeLonge left in ’05 the band split entirely, only to reunite for another album late in 2011. But when DeLonge split from the band again in 2015, Blink 182 found themselves in a familiar position. This time though, much like Van Halen in 1986, Blink decided to go the route of a reinvention, bringing in an established, yet very different musician, Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio fame.
The result is a more matured, but still fun and loose sounding record titled “California”. The album shot up to number one on the charts upon release, the band’s first to do so since 2001’s “Take Off Your Pants and Jacket” California is a record in which Blink establish that they have decided to move forward in their career and create a new era rather than trying to replace DeLonge with a similar sounding vocalist.
This summer Blink 182 have embarked on a massive US Tour with some of pop punk’s finest in tow, on Friday night the tour swung by the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, MA where a sold out crowd got their first look at the post-DeLonge era Blink 182. Much like when Van Halen toured behind “5150” - their first post-Roth album - deciding the setlist was a difficult task. With only one album of original material, it was pretty much a given that Skiba would have to take on some of DeLonge’s songs. Early on, for songs like “First Date,” “What’s My Age Again?” and “The Rock Show” Skiba matched the liveliness and light-hearted attitude that those songs carry, albeit still treading carefully on how he performed them.
But it wasn’t until the show got to the “California” era portion of the set that Skiba really came into his own. While performing “Bored to Death” the first single from the album, you could sense Skiba’s comfort level kicking in as things took on a much more instinctive feel. Another element furthering his comfort was Blink’s decision to dig deep for a few songs such as “Not Now” and “Dysentery Gary” that were never as popular during the DeLonge era, giving Skiba a chance to make a few songs in the back catalog his own. But again, it was when going back to new material such as “San Diego” and “Kings of the Weekend” that Skiba looked the most at home.
The encore portion of the show was the biggest discomfort for Skiba, consisting of some of DeLonge’s signature songs such as “All The Small Things” which he did a satisfactory job on, but much like Sammy Hagar singing “Panama” or “Jump” there was just something that felt amiss about it.
Now unlike Van Halen, many Blink 182 songs consist of co-lead vocals from Mark Hoppus, in fact the vocal contrast between Hoppus and DeLonge was what made Blink’s original sound so unique early on, so when Skiba sings in a lower pitch than the songs were written, they just doesn’t translate as well when sung in DeLonge’s signature “pop punk voice.” Now don’t read me wrong here, Matt Skiba is a strikingly proficient and accomplished musician. Alkaline Trio’s place in punk history is substantial and they continue to produce compelling music to this day, but just as with Sammy Hagar in 1986 sometimes, despite a high talent level, the uniqueness of another singer is difficult to match.
So where does all this leave Blink 182? Well Friday’s show brought out a capacity crowd of over 19,000 fans, as have many shows on this tour. “California” is a number one album in 2016, and many people are being introduced to Blink 182 for the first time, while most of their older fans have stuck with the band. Only time will tell if Blink 182 is one day spoken of in terms of “Tom DeLonge era” and “Matt Skiba era” the way a few of rock’s most legendary acts like Van Halen or AC/DC are. But in many ways, Blink 182 in 2016 find themselves in the same position as Van Halen in 1986, in a transition period between era’s of one of the generation’s most popular bands.
There were some songs on “California” such as “Left Alone” and “Sober” left out of the set, that many fans were hoping to see performed, and as Blink moves forward, it’s likely those songs will eventually substitute some of the older material. In an era where so many bands tour behind nostalgia and reminiscence, it’s revitalizing to see a band like Blink 182 electing to go forward and create something new and modernistic, while still retaining the base of what their sound and immense popularity was built on.
Right now it’s still undetermined how much further Blink 182 and Matt Skiba will go together. But should they continue on the path their on, releasing more music with Skiba, they will undoubtedly take on a new identity the way Hagar-era Van Halen did, and judging by the success of this current album and tour, that would work out just fine for Blink 182 as they approach new heights they have not in the past.
Photos from Blink 182 in Mansfield, MA on 8/19/16:
08/23 – Syracuse, NY @ Lakeview Amphitheatre # 08/24 – Buffalo, NY @ Darien Lake Performing Arts Center # 08/25 – Scranton, PA @ The Pavilion at Montage Mountain # 08/27 – Hershey, PA @ Hershey Park Pavilion # 08/28 – Pittsburgh, PA @ First Niagara Pavilion # 08/30 – Detroit, MI @ DTE Energy Music Theater # 09/02 – Hartford, CT @ Xfinity Theater # 09/03 – Bangor, ME @ Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion # 09/04 – Saratoga, NY @ Saratoga Performing Arts Center # 09/08 – Minneapolis, MN @ Xcel Energy Center * 09/09 – Chicago, IL @ Hollywood Casino Amphitheater * 09/10 – Indianapolis, IN @ Klipsch Music Center * 09/11 – St. Louis, MO @ Hollywood Casino Amphitheater * 09/13 – Denver, CO @ Pepsi Center * 09/15 – Boise, ID @ Taco Bell Arena * 09/16 – Spokane, WA @ Spokane Arena * 09/17 – Seattle, WA @ Key Arena * 09/18 – Vancouver, BC @ Abbotsford Centre * 09/20 – Portland, OR @ Sunlight Supply Amphitheater * 09/22 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Usana Amphitheatre # 09/24 – Phoenix, AZ @ Ak-Chin Pavilion # 09/25 – Albuquerque, NM @ Isleta Amphitheater # 09/28 – San Francisco, CA @ Shoreline Amphitheater # 09/29 – Irvine, CA @ Meadows Amphitheater # 10/01 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Forum #
* = w/ A Day to Remember and The All-American Rejects # = w/ A Day to Remember and All Time Low