Blink-182 side project Boxcar Racer played their debut show Monday night, exhausting their supply of songs as well as their frontman, singer/guitarist Tom DeLonge. Halfway through the band’s 40-minute set at the Mira Mesa Epicentre, a sweat-drenched DeLonge moaned, “F-, I’m tired. I’m out of shape.”
Though more likely he just wasn’t used to being the sole focus of attention. Peering from behind a curtain of hair that hid his eyes, early on DeLonge said of the club’s low ceiling beams: “I like the rafters. It kind of hides my face from you guys.”
Still, without Blink-182 singer/bassist Mark Hoppus around to play off of, DeLonge did his best to entertain. “This is one of our more erotic shows,” he told the sold-out, 500-plus crowd. “If you feel like rubbing each other sensually, go ahead.” Later, he asked, “Do you guys like girls?… And that’s a question for the girls, too.”
As it is at Blink-182 shows, the juvenile stage banter was tempered by serious songs about life and relationships. While DeLonge didn’t announce the names of any of the songs – which will be released May 14 on the band’s self-titled album – he did often explain what they’re about. “I wrote this song as if you’re writing a letter to God and you don’t want to die,” he said before playing a number listed on the set list as “Maybe I Don’t.” It began with DeLonge singing and strumming his black Fender Stratocaster, repeatedly declaring, “I don’t wanna go/ Can’t you wait?” and then it exploded with pounding drum blasts from his Blink-182 bandmate Travis Barker and stutter-stop guitar crunch from Dave Kennedy.
“Cat Like Thief,” about when “a friend has a really hot girl and he’s leaving her, even though he shouldn’t, and you like her,” featured a Blinky bassline and DeLonge intoning, “Don’t leave her” over and over. “There Is” described the joy that comes when you first date someone new (“There’s someone out there who is just like me”). For that one, DeLonge played over a building military-like cadence laid down by the shirtless, tat-covered Barker, whose stop-on-a-dime, roll-like-a-Spanish-tongue drumming was the engine that kept the band moving.
For the most part, Kennedy and bassist Anthony Celestino were careful not to do anything – physically or musically – that would distract attention away from the band’s pop-punk marquee players. And as promised, Boxcar Racer’s material paid tribute to DeLonge’s post-hardcore heroes such as Fugazi and Refused rather than more obvious and oft-cited Blink-182 influences like the Descendents, who were heard only on the PA between acts.
The stop-start technique and the quiet-then-loud dynamic were in full effect for most of Boxcar Racer’s short tracks, and one song, listed on the set list as “Watch World,” had hints of Static Prevails-era Jimmy Eat World, another DeLonge influence. The only time the band really deviated from its set course was for the mosh-pit-swirling speedcore punk tune appropriately called “Punk Rock Song.”
After announcing, “This is our last song ’cause we don’t know any more,” Boxcar Racer wrapped things up with “Elevator,” which featured the night’s only poppy “Whoa-oh-oh” future sing-along hook. Then DeLonge told the mostly teenage crowd to go buy some burritos and to send him photos of their naked bodies.