With nearly a decade of hits to their name and a command of large audiences that would put Tony Robbins to shame, Green Day are a hard act to follow. No wonder, then, that Blink-182 took a page from one of rock’s biggest bad boys Wednesday night in an attempt to avoid being overshadowed.
Facing an opening-night Pop Disaster Tour crowd that had expended most of its energy during Green Day’s set, Mark, Tom and Travis found that even their onstage fireballs were no match for the ones their elder peers had singed the Centennial Garden with less than an hour earlier. So when the time for the obligatory encore came, crew members rigged Travis Barker’s drum platform for a Tommy Lee trademark move.
About two-thirds of the way through Blink-182’s first encore number, “Reckless Abandon,” wires attached to Barker’s rig lifted the shirtless, tat-covered drummer and his kit into the air, drawing it forward over a clearing in front of the stage. As the belted-in Barker began a solo, the platform slowly rotated a complete 360 degrees two times before spinning backward once and returning to the relative safety of a pyrotechnics-laden stage. It was a scene straight out of MÃ¶tley CrÃ¼e’s 1987 “Wild Side” video, which most of the crowd was no doubt too young to have seen.
Prior to that, the twisted trio had been working hard to hold the crowd’s attention, making sure to pepper their onstage banter with references to the “beautiful and sexy” audience’s hometown. Blink’s set list stuck mainly to Enema of the State (1999) and Take Off Your Pants and Jacket (2001), though it also included the show-closing “Dammit” from Dude Ranch (1997), the string of obscenities “Family Reunion” and a “touching” (literally) little ditty purportedly about singer/bassist Mark Hoppus’ perverted grandfather. For that one, Hoppus set down his pink bass and knelt at the edge of the stage to croon about his grandpappy’s affinity for rubbing certain body parts in broken glass and putting fingers where they shouldn’t be.
The evening began with a decidedly different tone as Jimmy Eat World played a half-hour set of earnest rock and roll to a rapidly filling arena. Performing before an image of the American West landscape (think mesas and buttes), the Arizona quartet kicked things off with “Bleed American,” the first track off their latest, self-titled album, but got the biggest reaction with the follow-up single, “The Middle.” The first band to score a gold record while contending with the “emo” albatross closed with the new single “Sweetness” before handing things over to Green Day.
With red lights flashing and sirens blaring, Billie Joe Armstrong and company took the stage accompanied by a flurry of explosions and a fourth member, Jason White (Pinhead Gunpowder, the Influents). White was there to lend an extra guitar when needed, and to fill in for Armstrong when the singer would swap his instrument for a squirt gun, making the best seats in the house the wettest as well.
The group kicked things off with the new song “Maria” before taking the crowd on a greatest-hits journey through its career, beginning with “Longview.” Armstrong crisscrossed the stage with his exaggerated shuffle, egging the audience on and handing over entire verses for the mass sing-along. With bassist Mike Dirnt pausing his cartoonish spasms to slap his own head in time with Tre Cool’s drum beat, the band launched into another Dookie (1994) hit, “Welcome to Paradise.”
By the third song, Nimrod’s (1997) “Hitchin’ a Ride,” Armstrong had the audience eating out of his hand, which he waved like a traffic cop to conduct a chant of “Hey, hey, hey!” that eventually led back into the song, complete with crescendo scream and 20-foot flames.
The audience participation reached its peak during the group’s cover of Operation Ivy’s “Knowledge,” for which the band was joined by a trumpet player and a trombone player wearing black mariachi outfits. When their parts were done, the brass players danced with their hands on their hips as Armstrong, wearing a black shirt, black pants and a skinny white tie, stood on a monitor and soloed behind his head. With Dirnt and Cool carrying on the rhythm, Armstrong announced, “We’re gonna start a band onstage right now.”
Surveying the audience for musicians, he invited three fans to take over the song. Though the kids he picked weren’t so proficient at their parts – “That was awful but beautiful,” Armstrong would say afterward – they were much more graceful doing the stage dives he forced them to execute when finished.
“This will make up for that,” Armstrong promised as the band began “Basket Case,” which led into “She” and then “King for a Day.” The frontman hammed it up, donning a gold crown for the ode to cross-dressing, later tossing it and hitting Dirnt. The bassist, standing next to a brass section now dressed as a bee and a chicken, reacted only by shaking his head quickly and wagging his tongue.
More hits and more crowd-pumping followed, until confetti cannons cast sparkling red clouds in the air and Cool tumbled over his drum kit. With the stage bathed in purple light, a lone spotlight shone on Armstrong as he sang the band’s crossover hit “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” After one last big strum of the guitar, Armstrong walked off the stage.
The house lights came on, revealing that the band’s brass section – back in mariachi outfits – had made its way to the arena floor to dance with fans. The duo joined the slow-moving mob headed toward the restrooms and the concessions, the bowled brims of their mariachi hats teeming with red and silver confetti.