Blink-182 is a band of bros again
They were on a hiatus of indefinite length. Then Travis Barker was critically injured. As the trio gathered, the old times returned.
It took a brush with disaster to get the members of the multiplatinum-selling pop-punk trio Blink-182 to stop giving each other the cold shoulder after a four-year "hiatus" as a band. Specifically, it took drummer Travis Barker nearly dying last September in a plane crash -- which claimed the lives of his assistant and bodyguard -- to make the group's singer-guitarist Tom DeLonge reevaluate his priorities and break the radio silence toward his bandmates.
"We started talking again after Travis' accident," the boyish DeLonge asserted with uncharacteristic somberness.
The co-frontman was seated in a backstage dressing room before the band performed on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" last month. His mouth trembled with emotion before he lapsed back into his default goofball mode. "There was some hate before then," he blurted out. "Don't make me cry!"
But rekindling the bromance that propelled Blink's potty-mouthed popularity as one of Southern California's unlikeliest arena rock acts required that DeLonge, Barker and bassist-vocalist Mark Hoppus put aside their personal differences and come together as creative equals.
"We had to be friends before we could be in a band again," said Barker.
Hoppus, 37, recalled the moment of satori that would result in Blink's resurrection.
"We were sitting in the courtyard of our studio one day," he said. "We had been hanging out for about eight weeks or something, just as friends. And it was like there was a giant elephant in the room. It was like when you're dating a chick for eight weeks. Tom asked me and Travis, 'Where is this going? Are we going to do this thing?' Blink was obviously such a huge thing in our lives. We realized we wanted to continue doing it."
He added: "Not only with a sense of what we brought to the table but an appreciation for what everyone else brought."
Now, San Diego's punk princes -- who have sold some 13 million albums domestically -- are mounting a 50-date North American comeback tour that was set to kick off with a sold-out show at Las Vegas' Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on Thursday night. Blink performs there again tonight.
They are the marquee act on a bill that features a rotating lineup of illustrious-in-their-own-right openers, including the All-American Rejects, Weezer, Fall Out Boy and Asher Roth. Blink will play the biggest venues and perform for the biggest audiences of its career.
Some dates offer general admission lawn seats for a recession-friendly $20 ticket price that includes parking. Nearly 500,000 tickets have been sold so far for the performances (including an Irvine date in September). Several venues already have sold out.
"Tickets have been beyond great," said Darryl Eaton, the CAA agent who booked the tour. "It is unquestionably the breakout tour of the summer, with multiple sellouts and huge overall sales."
Hoppus marveled at how far the group had come.
"We started playing in small punk-rock clubs, touring in a van," he said. "None of us had any aspirations beyond playing the music we loved and having a good time. Next thing you know, we've sold millions of records. And the pressure was gigantic."
To hear them tell it, that's why in 2005, at the height of Blink's popularity, the trio's interpersonal discontent boiled over, prompting a career timeout.
On hiatus, DeLonge put together his successful alt-rock outfit Angels & Airwaves; Hoppus and Barker formed the electronic rock act +44; and Barker became an in-demand hip-hop drummer for top-selling rappers including Eminem, Lil Wayne and Soulja Boy Tell ’Em, while also producing a solo album he still hopes to release in coming months.
"It was never a thing where I didn't want to be in a band with nobody or something," Barker, 33, explained. "In our band, it just got kind of crazy. We took a break."
After Barker's plane crash -- which everyone carefully avoided discussing, because the drummer is suing for damages a company that owns the Learjet on which he crashed -- the course of action seemed obvious for DeLonge. His reticence is generally credited with having prevented the band from re-forming sooner.
"When you see opportunities in your life, you've got to analyze, 'Why was that choice given to me?' " DeLonge, 33, said. "It was very clear to me after Travis' thing that all these forces of nature were pushing for [a reunion] to happen."
Still, moments before what was to be Blink's fourth public post-hiatus performance, the bandmates tried to laugh off a palpable sense of performance anxiety. Hoppus rehearsed stage banter that utilized the words "climax" and "come inside" to pointed effect. DeLonge, meanwhile, was busy re-memorizing the Blink song lyrics he had written down on a yellow legal pad.
"Here's how wheels-off this organization is: We're about to walk out onstage tonight in front of a national audience and perform songs we haven't played in seven years," said Hoppus.
"Not to mention, I can't actually remember all the guitar parts," DeLonge said. "It's all a blur to me."
And the drums?
"We all help Travis," DeLonge said. "If he can't play a part, we all fill in."
But when they hit the stage, Blink performed energetic run-throughs of two of its biggest Warped Tour hits, "What's My Age Again?" and "Dammit," for Kimmel's cameras. Then, glancing at each other from across the stage with barely contained class-clown glee, the band members decided they were having too much fun to leave.
"I love you, Tra-vis," Hoppus drawled into the mike, prompting DeLonge to elucidate for the crowd: "It's a physical thing."
"And I love you, Tom De-Long-ee," Hoppus continued, just before the trio launched into its single "Down."
With Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz and wife Ashlee Simpson looking on from backstage, flanked by a gaggle of Blink's preteen children sitting on an overstuffed sofa, the group performed eight songs (not including an off-the-cuff cover of the Beastie Boys' "High Plains Drifter") over the course of an hour.
It was in part a reward for fans who had been waiting most of the day to see Blink; dozens were led up to a viewing area on the rooftop of a nearby building, where they screamed wildly.
Hundreds of others hung out in alleys surrounding the concert area, taking in the jocular, snotty tunage in true punk-rock style.
With all of Hoppus and DeLonge's crude sexual double-entendres and frat boy repartee, the mini-concert seemed more like a declaration of purpose than a tour warmup. The implicit message was that Blink-182 is back and as solid as ever -- that its tour isn't going to be some kind of halfhearted, profit-driven road slog even if it represents one of Blink's biggest paydays to date.
"This isn't a reunion tour," Hoppus had insisted backstage. "That has the stigma of a band that's riding on its own coattails. . . . This is a continuation for us. We want to make an album, do what we love and continue where we left off."
Photo: Mark Hoppus, from left, Tom DeLonge and Travis Barker. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times