“People always hated Blink from day one. From day one, Blink had to fight for every fan we won over.”
That’s lead singer Mark Hoppus, matter-of-factly and without resentment, in an interview last summer with Sirius XM’s Jenny Eliscu. And it’s undeniable, their late ’90s twerp-rock shtick was — and still is — easy to dismiss, and probably easier to outright hate. They were always too nasal, too sugar-rushed, irredeemably apolitical, and, live, way too eager to annoy the crowd with banter about who and what they fellated before the show: their road crew, each other’s dads, their own uncles, family pets, et al.
Admittedly, this writer went into this concert armed with a lot of teenage nostalgia and an armor of tempered expectations. I had no idea that for the last year, since the release of “California,” some of the country’s elite musical writers (Jon Caramanica, Amanda Petrusich, Kelefa Sanneh) have taken to the pages of ivory-towered publications like The New York Times and The New Yorker to engage in some serious critical re-evaluation and reconsideration of the band and, surprise! The new wisdom says that these idiots are timeless. And their show Friday night at Verizon Arena made that exact case to a crowd of 4,200 people — a motley mix of people who were picked on in junior high, their bullies and at least one Juggalo in full face paint.
As far as the music is concerned, I don’t want to say that pop-punk isn’t without its own tactical musical algorithms that you can chart out for maximum catchiness, but by the band’s third album, “Enema of the State,” the trio of brash man-children had mastered the ability to summon punky blasts of effortless, goofball pop that struck a rare balance between radio-friendly and dad-hated. So, with the band a quarter century into its career, how did the architects of teenage idiot anthems like “Dumpweed” and “Dick Lips” translate their music to the stage? With shocking grace and as masterfully as you’ll find in all of the genre. (I know, right?)
Blink-182 didn’t need to hide behind a spectacle show. They took to the stage with a humble skeleton set-up: drums, two amps and a couple of rugs, in total less gear than you’ll find on stage at White Water or Stickyz on any given night. The band also didn’t need to hide behind its signature between-song shock-jock pot-shots, either. Turns out they don’t work blue anymore, instead chugging through their set like old pros only to stop a couple times to make wisecracks that wouldn’t be out of place in a Jim Gaffigan set. A joke about people from Missouri being kind of ugly, “God bless ’em,” was an easy hit with the crowd. (Still, not even Frank Zappa, that demigod of rock ‘n’ roll comedy, could write neat, stupid and subversive koans that can unfold into grand comic narrative like “she left me roses by the stairs/surprises let me know she cares” or, the total lyrics from a new one: “I wanna see some naked dudes/that’s why I built this pool.”)
The most notable change between the Blink-182 of then and the Blink-182 of now is the absence of co-founder (and, now, UFO Researcher of the Year 2016) Tom Delonge. Another progenitor and all-star of ’90s pop-punk, Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio, has taken his place and can be credited with much of the band’s sonic maturation. His lower register takes the place of Delonge’s adenoidal SoCal squeak. Skiba doesn’t try to imitate Delonge in tone but does an incredible job of being respectful to Delonge’s peculiar syllabic emphases and signature twists of articulation (“microhooks,” maybe?) in the way that only someone who has been fully absorbing the minutia of the music for decades can pull off.
Maybe Blink-182 emerging as old masters of the genre isn’t the most surprising thing that could happen — after all, we are in a time when Hoppus is openly Libertarian and adjacently Christian, DeLonge is exchanging emails about flying saucers with John Podesta and drummer Travis Barker is still making the case at 41 that he’s with John Bonham and Keith Moon in the short list of rock drumming elites. Musically, Blink-182 is still evolving while staying true to the original rules. Like The Beastie Boys before them, Blink-182 is becoming an exemplar of how even the crudest doofuses can transform and age gracefully, creatively, and with that essential ability to look back on their former idiot selves with empathy, acceptance and virtuous … self-love (huh, huh, huh).