Concert Review: Blink 182 at Castlefield Bowl, Manchester
Champions of the everyman and diamonds in the rough The Front Bottoms opened the show with a dash of charity-shop chic blended with catchy rhythms and a genuine, honest attitude that endeared them to the expectant audience almost at once. The band’s relaxed, carefree image can be summarised by the simple fact that they had a sofa brought on stage for several of their touring crew to sit on, beers in hand, so that they could be on hand to lend a hand with percussion from time to time, and in between that just chill out! Their relaxed demeanour and infectious smiles extended beyond the stage into the crowd, and with help from the small pockets of fans who from the off were jumping and singing, the Front Bottoms’ happy-go-lucky summer vibes soon got the packed out square bopping along to their upbeat rhythm! Frontman Brian Sella‘s vocals piqued my interest from the off, as they boasted that idiosyncratic, raw, unpolished vibe favoured by the indie rock bands of old, and the comedic switches to deadpan spoken word before crashing back into the choruses, exemplified best by penultimate track ‘The Beers’, had me grinning and chuckling in spite of myself!
The steel drums woven into ‘The Plan (F**k Jobs)’ brought the beach-ready groove, while ‘Skeleton’ is the ultimate summer road-trip anthem, with its infectiously bouncy melody and fist-pumping, hilarity-inducing chorus featuring one of my favourite utterly ridiculous lyrics yet: ‘I never sleep in the front seat, I’m too tall, but I got so stoned!’. Having said that, while at first glance the lyrics of many of the songs may seem simple, direct and unpretentious, beneath the surface run rivers of hidden meanings that justify the many aesthetic edits I have seen of their lyrics online over the past year. A hidden gem in this regard is the beautiful, emotionally charged ‘Twin Size Mattress’, with its soaring guitar line and soft, playful rhythms coupled with impassioned vocals that rise to a crescendo that feels as though it is on the edge of breaking into pieces like a shattered heart. It is a song that cannot fail to tug on your heartstrings, and it illustrated that while it was their tongue-in-cheek nature that most likely endeared them to the young at heart lads of Blink 182 initially, this a band with a hell of a lot more to offer than just frivolous, sunshine-filled giggles, and that beneath their shabby, men-of-the-people demeanour, they truly have a spark of something for more unique.
Bringing a dose of much needed Britishness back to the bill were the support some had questioned upon their initial announcement: Frank Turner and his touring band the Sleeping Souls. If frontman Frank was in any way aware of the controversy that had sprung up online about his band being added to this tour, he didn’t show it, and instead focused on proving the naysayers wrong, delivering a punchy, powerful set driven by a fierce determination to ensure that not one single person in the small square went untouched by the fiery passion that floated along on the air.
With a style that I surprisingly succinctly summarised in my semi-delirious post gig ramblings as ‘like the American Authors meets Green Day’, Frank Turner’s ceaseless energy as he bounded around the stage coupled with his impassioned vocals, fearless crowd-surfing and passionate anger at the current state of the world made him every inch the punk icon, however the blend of indie, folk –and dare I say, somewhat country- inspired subtleties into the mix softened the band’s sound, though it was not to their detriment. On the contrary, the intent and venom was still there, but by allowing it to bask in a warm cocoon of softer melodies made the messages accessible to everyone, allowing them to shine through even brighter.
That warmth extended to the band’s personalities too, with the undeniable highlight of their set being when Frank pulled an excitable woman named Becky out of the crowd to play a harmonica solo during ‘Dan’s Song’, which resulted in cheers and chants rising up from the crowd to spur her on to delivering the ‘most refined harmonica solo’ the band had ever seen! Powering through a blistering set including: the anthemic ode to rock and roll ‘I Still Believe’; ‘Photosynthesis’, which the band dedicated to the amazing charity Safe Gigs for Women, before encouraging the whole crowd to sit on the ground before exploding back to our feet at the drop the first chorus; and riotous closer ‘Four Simple Words’, with lyrics that call out like a punk rock Siren to all the ‘kids who never fit in with the rest’, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls proved why they completely deserved their spot on this huge tour- because they are genuinely talented, passionate musicians with a message to get across and a drive to make sure every single person has the best night they can- what more of a justification do you need than that?
And then, the moment you, I, and the entirety of the packed out Castlefield Bowl had been waiting for: the entrance of the pop punk legends themselves, the iconic Blink 182. The roar of the crowd as drummer Travis Barker emerged onto the stage to begin the rising crescendo of the opening drumroll was deafening, as the band that have inspired many all of the many generations of pop punk bands who have followed in their footsteps burst onto the stage, just as full of vigour and vitality as they were the day they formed, as seamless in their new line up as if it had been this way since the start, and ready to shake the crowd to its very core! The combination of my proximity to the stage, less than two metres from guitarist Matt Skiba’s microphone, and the intimacy of the setting, made the wall of sound that slammed into my chest as the trio kicked into gear all the more powerful. And yet, what really struck a chord with me, above all else, was the rain. Minutes before the band were due to appear on stage, the clouds had gathered, (almost as if they too were eager to get a piece of the action!) and the heavens had opened, releasing huge blobs of rain onto the expectant crowd that quickly amassed into a classic northern downpour. And yet, despite being cold, wet and tired, the second the opening notes of ‘Feeling This’ rang out across the square, the crowd erupted, and all else was blasted from our minds, as we simply let ourselves be swept up in the music, the rain and the melodies forming the most perfect catharsis as the outside world and all its horrors faded away in favour of a riotous pop punk party of epic proportions!
All the classics were present and correct, and the noise of the chanting, singing, at times screaming crowd was thrillingly potent! ‘The Rock Show’ was the first of these huge hits to make an appearance, with its iconic opening bassline, galloping melody and lyrics that have made this classic the soundtrack to many a teenage, movie-like romance- and the chance to sing along to ‘17 without a purpose or direction, we don’t owe anyone a fucking explanation’, having just turned 17 years old myself was a movie-made moment in itself! No more than a single note was needed of the introductory guitar line that every pop punk kid has ingrained in their very soul before the crowd erupted into screams, almost drowning out the rest of the opening of ‘What’s My Age Again’, the timeless anthem of individuality, non-conformity and the championing of plain and simple silliness, which also gave us one of the most starkly memorable videos of the early 2000s! Frontman Mark Hoppus was evidently in his element, darting back and forth across the stage for the entire show with barely a pause for breath, sending cheeky smirks in the direction of several of the screaming women in the crowd, weakening their knees and drawing up adrenaline-filled screams every time he smiled at the enthralled masses!
Mixed in with the old was also a heavy dollop of the new- sadly none of the new tracks from the band’s most recent release, the deluxe version of latest record ‘California’, made the cut, but many of the original tracks did, including the short but sweet ‘Cynical’, which charts the band’s indecision over making their second return to the stage, and their eventual triumph over both external and internal criticism and doubt. The global smash hit and last year’s unrivalled ‘Song of the Summer’, ‘Bored to Death’ was a delight for old and new fans alike, with its massive, swinging, arena-ready chorus backed by lurid, fast-paced graphics that framed drummer Travis Barker, making him an impressive silhouette as he was framed against fans of flame and hissing smoke that erupted like fluorescent peacocks’ tails from the back of the stage! Being a Blink 182 show on a Friday night in Manchester, the addition of ‘Kings of the Weekend’ could not go amiss, and the breakneck bounce of the guitars in the verses, coupled with Matt’s screams in the second verse had the circle pit spinning in next to no time! The mid-paced, somewhat sultry ‘Los Angeles’ was an odd addition to the setlist on paper, but in practice it worked a treat, the insistency of the drums meaning that the energy in the square never fully dissipated, and instead allowed for a small lull in the action before the sucker-punch of the finale came crashing back down! And of course, this being Blink 182, the moments of pure, unadulterated stupidity could not be forgotten, but the addition of the 16-second ‘Built This Pool’ and the fiendish wordplay of ‘Brohemian Rhapsody’ saw that box ticked with a flourish! The newest addition to Blink 182’s line-up, Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba, led the way with vocal duties from the off, tackling all their new material with ease as well as proving that he was more than up to the challenge of filling the conspicuous hole left by the unceremonious departure of former guitarist Tom DeLonge when it comes to live performances as well as on record, as he performed the band’s classics from their early records with such passion and vigour, you would almost believe they were his songs!
Wholly appropriate, given the uncertainty and anger felt by many young people regarding the current political climate in the UK, ‘Anthem Part 2’ delighted the crowd, as many around me spat the lyrics ‘corporate leaders/ politicians/ kids can’t vote/ adults elect them’ with frustration-fuelled venom and youthful, rebellious spirit in equal measure! ‘Reckless Abandon’, one of my favourite Blink tracks of all time, had much the same effect, the pure punk-rockness of it all, coupled with a riotous, infectiously bouncy chorus providing a perfect catharsis for the frustrated, suppressed youths in the crowd! Yet there were also moments of relaxation and genuine feeling, as the emotional, melodic and somewhat demure (by Blink standards!) ‘Down’, send a forest of arms swaying up towards the darkening sky, and ‘I Miss You’ was a beautiful, almost crystalline moment of peace, as a blanket seemed to settle over the crowd and couples laced their arms around each other, and in spite of myself, I felt tears begin to prick at the edge of my eyes as I added my voice to the chorus that hovered like a cloud of fireflies over our heads. Fireflies that manifested themselves as star-like clusters of phone lights during an incredibly intimate moment, which Mark described as ‘a moment to tell your grandkids about’, when the band played a short but sweet song entirely in the dark. Oh, which song did they choose for this incredibly poignant, beautiful moment, you ask? ‘Happy Holidays, You Bastard’. Because of course they did!
During the pause before the encore, however, there was a truly touching moment that genuinely reduced me to sobs. A few feet away from me, a cluster of phone lights suddenly rose into the air, framing a small circle in the crowd, through which I could just make out the silhouettes of a man and a woman, and the man was kneeling down in the crowd, bent on one knee… An explosion of cheers suddenly rose up from the spectators as chants of ‘SHE SAID YES!’ rang out across the bobbing crowd of heads, and only then did I realise that I had just witnessed a marriage proposal in the middle of the crowd! The whoops and cheers continued to ring out, until all heads suddenly whipped around to the stage as a small happy chuckle bubbled up over the speakers, and Mark Hoppus himself was revealed, standing onstage under a spotlight and staring at the illuminated spot in the crowd, delight and pride written all over his face. ‘I want to bring the engaged people up on stage!’ he said happily, and the crowd bellowed as the young couple were pulled out of the pit by security and clambered up on stage to rapturous applause! After exchanging hugs and a whispered request, Mark turned back to the crowd and shouted jovially ‘And this guy is going to play bass for our last song tonight!’, an announcement that was met with yet another round of cheers, before the legendary frontman was joined back on stage by his bandmates to close out the night in style! For following the obligatory anthem that needs no description ‘All the Small Things’ there could only be one song left that it would be fitting to close such an epic Blink 182 show with, the song I had been waiting all night to leap into the mosh pit for and to crowdsurf out to: of course, it was ‘Dammit’! And as choruses of ‘Well I guess this is growing up!’ rose up around me and I was borne into the air, only a single thought could penetrate the pure joy the was filling my whole body- Blink 182, surely, have to be one of the greatest bands in the world. No contest.
The Front Bottoms' latest two track record 'Needy When I'm Needy' is out now.
Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls are set to play several festivals this summer including Kendal Calling, before embarking on a US headline tour in the autumn. The band have just released a live version of their song 'The Sand in the Gears', following their 2016 EP 'Mittens'.