Blink-182 at United Center: Hitmaking lineup reunites, older but no more mature

Chemistry of pop punk trio’s ’90s heyday remains as guitarist-vocalist Tom DeLonge rejoins the band.

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Mark Hoppus (left) plays with returning bandmate Tom DeLonge during blink-182’s concert Saturday at the United Center.

Kate Scott/For the Sun-Times

Going to a blink-182 show in 2023 is the musical equivalent of finding Neverland, where, for 90 minutes, all adulting is paused. As the second night of the pop punk band’s world reunion tour got underway Saturday in Chicago with an arsenal of cartoon video graphics, eighth-grade humor about STDs and the shape of hot dogs and mass singalongs rueing the pitfalls of childhood trauma and teenage heartbreak, it begged the question, “What’s our age again?”

Much of the United Center was filled with 40-somethings going on 14 who, over the course of the show (which repeats Sunday night), regressed to a time in the late ’90s when the California trio became the most prescribed antidote for coming-of-age woes that befell the MTV generation — and with it, helping birth a new era of mainstream pop punk.

Though, three decades later, it all felt totally appropriate and familiar to get back in the time machine — especially amid the band’s reunion with guitarist-vocalist Tom DeLonge. After his departure under acrimonious circumstances in 2015, DeLonge’s return has made good on a years-long wish from fans, and made it seem that no time has passed at all as the band’s innate chemistry bubbled over in the 25-song set. Singer-bassist Mark Hoppus even gave the guitarist a kiss on the cheek before the band fully plugged in for the night.

A good chunk of the show paid homage to DeLonge and his out-of-this-world ideologies. (He basically left blink to research UFOs, after all.) Staying true to blink’s self-deprecating ethos, the night began with introductory music from Richard Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30” (the defining composition in “2001: A Space Odyssey”) as bright lights and a groundswell of fog surrounded the shadowy figures of DeLonge, Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker as they walked to the stage, appearing to emerge from a backstage spaceship. Later, after performing “Aliens Exist,” a graphic of a faux tabloid newspaper appeared on the video screen with a photo of DeLonge under the headlines, “Tom’s incredible story: My brush with aliens.”

“Aliens Exist” hails from the band’s breakthrough album, 1999’s “Enema of the State,” which has been a prominent focus of the reunion tour setlist, largely the same since blink-182 made a surprise appearance at both Coachella weekends in April. “Dysentery Gary,” “Dumpweed” and “All the Small Things” were album standouts of the night, as was a giant blowup prop of an “Enema” art-decorated ambulance complete with blinking siren lights that hovered over the stage. During another “Enema” highlight, the emotive “Adam’s Song,” a montage of footage from blink’s early days played over the video screens like Polaroid snapshots of a bygone era worth celebrating.

If nothing else, for being the first album Barker appears on, giving modern rock music one of its greatest drummers over the past 30 years. He remains an absolute beast of a musician whose nonstop drum fills and solos could have made one fun drinking game for the night. If seeing him beat up his kit on the main stage wasn’t jaw-dropping enough (the cameras once or twice panned to his bandaged hands), toward the end of the set, Barker’s platform was rigged to cables that propelled him into the sky where his godly status was even more apparent.

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Travis Barker pounds the drums during the blink-182 concert Saturday at the United Center.

Kate Scott/For the Sun-Times

Hoppus and DeLonge, on the other hand, poked fun at their own innocent mishaps, DeLonge giving himself a C+ for his delivery on “Dysentery Gary” and Hoppus (wearing a shirt promoting the incredible experimental hardcore openers Turnstile) declaring he “got one note wrong” on “Dumpweed” and made it up to the crowd by plucking it over again.

Blink has one new song to date — the catchy ditty “EDGING” — and played it with total aplomb. The setlist also curiously featured two songs from the era of Matt Skiba (“Cynical” and “Bored to Death”). Skiba, the singer-guitarist in Chicago’s own Alkaline Trio, took over for DeLonge from 2015 until his recent return, and while it would have been nice (and maybe a miracle) to see him guest in his hometown, those hopes were quickly dashed.

While it was a bit of a disconnect in some ways to see down-to-earth punk rockers with so much pomp and circumstance in an arena show — the rotating stage, the pyro effects, confetti guns and steam towers — there were plenty of moments of realness too, in particular when Hoppus made mention of his recent cancer battle and the gratitude to even be alive for blink’s reunion.

“It wasn’t so long ago that I didn’t know if I’d be able to come out here and play music for you again,” he shared towards the end of the night to a swell of applause and cheers, before the band devolved back into trademark juvenile humor. A great reminder — to quote the bandmates themselves — that “no one should take themselves so seriously,” no matter your age.

Blink-182 Setlist

SETLIST


Anthem Part Two

The Rock Show

Family Reunion

Man Overboard

Feeling This

Reckless Abandon

Dysentery Gary

Up All Night

Dumpweed

EDGING

Aliens Exist

Cynical

Don’t Leave Me

Happy Holidays, You Bastard

Stay Together for the Kids

Always

Down

Bored to Death

I Miss You

Adam’s Song

Ghost on the Dance Floor

What’s My Age Again?

First Date

All The Small Things

Dammit

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