Two summers ago, Blink-182 made their triumphant return to stages across the country after what had been a five year hiatus. With support from rock heavyweights such as Weezer, Fall Out Boy, and Taking Back Sunday, the trio packed giant amphitheaters nearly every night, delighting not only long-time fans, but also a legion of younger fans who had discovered the band since their break-up.
When the band announced they would headline the 2011 Honda Civic Tour along side My Chemical Romance, it seemed as thought not much had changed. Not only would they play most of the same venues, the dates and tour routing was strangely similar to their 2009 effort. Also, fans still hadn’t heard any new material from the band since 2003, and there was still no release date set for their long anticipated new record.
I couldn’t help but suspect that Blink was set to become the Dave Mathews Band of pop-punk. Content with touring the same venues every summer and playing the same songs, they would rake in the profits without actually do anything new or exciting. Luckily, as the tour grew closer, things began to change. The band set a September release date for their new album and then debuted studio versions of not one, but two brand new songs. Suddenly the band wasn’t just shaking off the rust, as they had been two years ago. Instead, they set out to prove they still have what it takes to write the monster hits that launched them to stardom in the first place and give their thousands of fans a reason to actually buy music again.
Considering that the Civic Tour would visit just about every worthwhile city in America (and many non-worthwhile cities as well), it was easy to see multiple dates of the tour. I attended the Mansfield, Mass show on Tuesday, August 9th, and the Hartford date the following Sunday.
Each night started with a 30 minute daylight set from Georgia’s Manchester Orchestra. All three of the band’s records have earned rave reviews from critics, and the quintet has also seen a surprising amount of radio success over the past two years. Of course, a decent amount of radio success doesn’t mean much when opening for a band as big as Blink, and at the Mansfield show the amphitheater was basically empty.
While the fans might have still been in the parking lot, the band’s performance left no doubt that they can handle such super-sized environments. As lead singer Andy Hull belted out each booming chorus, the rest of the band was spot on, and the presence of two drummers only added to these thundering tracks. At the Hartford show, the rain drove more fans into the pavilion earlier, and it seemed that at least some were familiar with the band, as they received a big applause after each song. Highlights of the set at both shows included “My Friend Marcus” and “The River.”
Next up was My Chemical Romance, a band that did an admirable job conquering the rock radio charts in the time that Blink had been gone. By the time they took the stage, the venue was full at both shows, and it was obvious that nearly everyone was at least somewhat familiar with the band.
Their performance in Mansfield was at first marred by sub-par sound and the remaining sunlight, but as darkness fell and the mixing issues were worked out, the band hit their stride, tearing through their hits while shrouded in smoke and strobe lights. They ended up playing 10 songs in all, and while their Mansfield performance was solid, they were truly on their game five nights later in Hartford. Playing the exact same set, they motivated the crowd in the pit to bounce around to new tracks like “Planetary (GO!)” and inspired giant sing-alongs during hits like “Helena” and “Welcome to the Black Parade.”
The band would close with the epic “Famous Last Words,” leaving recent singles “Na Na Na Na Na” and “Sing” off the set list at both performances. Unlike Blink, the band seemed unconcerned with promoting their new album and instead gave even the most fair weather fan a few tracks to sing along to.
After a half hour wait, Blink-182 took the stage, although not in the grand curtain-dropping fashion they had two years earlier. Instead, the instantly recognizable trio of Mark Hoppus, Tom Delonge and Travis Barker sauntered onstage and kicked things off with “Feelin’ This,” the lead single from their 2003 self-titled album. Barker’s bass drum dominated the track, shaking the entire building during the chorus.
While the Hartford crowd did received a few extra surprises, the set list and crowd reaction to each song was just about identical for each show. However, being in the pit on both nights, I can say they felt very different. The Mansfield show was the experience you would expect from a performance at such a large venue. The pit there was very small. Only a few hundred pit tickets were available, and the majority of those were sold either as $250 “VIP” packages or $160 “premium” tickets. The vast majority of fans sat in seats or were soaked out on the lawn.
The Hartford venue, meanwhile, features a much larger pit area, and it seemed to welcome more rabid fans who were able to score their tickets at reasonable price. Because of this, the Hartford show felt like it was being played a sweaty rock club, as crowd surfers flew through the air throughout the entire set and everyone sang along.
Regardless of the venue, Blink would mix in four new songs among their set list of hits. The first, “Up All Night,” came directly after “Feeling This” and featured Mark and Tom trading vocals in the lead up to the song’s sweeping chorus. Being the new album’s first single, the majority of the crowd at each show seemed familiar with the track and roared their approval.
The band would then roll through more familiar hits, including “The Rock Show” and “What’s My Age Again.” In Hartford, Delonge would preform the second half of the latter song on his back after taking a tumble in front of the drum kit. Neither Hoppus nor the crowd would let him off the hook afterwards as he complained of the stage being too slippery. Throughout the first part of the set, the stage backdrop took on a Neighborhoods theme in celebration of the band’s upcoming album, as the video screens displayed a bird’s eye view of suburban towns. At one point, the setup mirrored the weather on both nights as digital rain poured down on the houses below.
In between songs Hoppus and Delonge were at their comedic best (or comedic worst, in Tom’s case). Each and every cheesy joke inspired either laughter or head shakes from the crowd, and after one particularly cringe-worthy antidote at the Mansfield show, Tom shouted out “you paid for the talking too!”
While Delonge certainly isn’t known for his superb singing voice, he has improved remarkably since the tour two years ago, and easily carried tracks such as “Violence” and “Dumpweed,” both of which inspired huge reactions from the fans in the pit. Tom also got in touch with his artistic side, performing Blink classic “Blowjob” at both shows and calling it one of the band’s greatest musical accomplishments. The Hartford crowd had the rare opportunity of hearing other similar tracks played live, including “Happy Holidays You Bastard,” which followed a brief Hoppus vs. Delonge on-stage volleyball match that bought Barker more time to clean up what was apparently an injured finger.
The crowd ate up just about everything Blink threw at them, including the three additional new songs. “Hearts All Gone,” which stands as one of the fastest songs the band has written in many years even inspired a huge circle pit on the floor. After approximately an hour and ten minutes, the band would close the set with “Josie.” At the Mansfield show, Hoppus would announce, “Travis can’t do the drum thing because of the rain but he still wants to show off for you,” which led to a ten minute solo performance by the drummer.
In Hartford, a black screen fell across the stage and when it was removed, Barker was strapped to the end of a giant mechanical arm from which he would then perform the solo. The giant arm gyrated around the stage and even tilted so that at one point barker was staring straight down at the crowd below.
Once Barker returned to the ground, he was joined again by Hoppus and Delounge for a three song encore that began with “Carousel” and then moved on to “Dammit,” which of course inspired the biggest reaction and sing-along of the night. Instead of walking straight off stage, the trio would stick around to play a small part of “Family Reunion,” and then take their bows.
All in all, both shows had been nothing short of a spectacle. The lasers, the rotating video screens that made up the backdrop, and of course the huge sound made these shows different and more spectacular than anything I would normally see. Mix in some very solid new songs and a pair of great openers and you have a very memorable tour that will be hard for the band to match in the future. But with a new album coming out and a willingness to change it up, at least we can take comfort in the fact they they’re going to try.