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Convincingly rocking Blink-182 machine didn't miss its co-founder at Xcel

Blink-182 leader Mark Hoppus on Sept. 8 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul

Blink-182 leader Mark Hoppus on Sept. 8 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul Billy Briggs

This is the part where we lay out the groundwork for Blink-182 2.0: Alien-obsessed founding member Tom DeLonge got booted from the band last year; Alkaline Trio frontman Matt Skiba assumed his co-frontman/guitarist duties alongside co-frontman/bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker. 

This is the part where the reviewer -- setting aside his own wistful pangs for classic Blink-182 -- tells you that the lineup re-jiggering didn't matter much Thursday at a mostly sold-out Xcel Energy Center. The reason is threefold: Blink has evolved from snotty southern California pop-punks into a glossy stadium machine; the nostalgia-drenched audience came with eager, enthusiastic hearts; the songs, mostly those from 1997 to 2003, are legit pop-rock masterworks. 

Barker's flanged drumming sparked wild applause when Blink opened with "Feeling This," the lead single from their sea-changing eponymous '03 LP. While the band has mostly outgrown their trademark cock 'n' balls wisecracking, an enormous, flaming "FUCK" sign proved the 40-something members are conscious of their heyday brand. 

Hoppus, with his melodious, comforting, if not spectacular vocal work, offered skeptical fans a familiar bridge by manning the mic for the first stretch: mega-hit "What's My Age Again?" (which had the place quaking with crowd energy), George Carlin-indebted joke song "Family Reunion," and "The Rock Show" (which pogoed through some blare-y mixing issues). 

"If I was the North Stars I never would have left you, not in a million years," Hoppus charmingly confessed during the night's first bit of smirking banter, a departure from the relentless Hoppus-DeLonge banter of yesteryear. 

Skiba took his first turn on lead vocals during 2001 hit "First Date." His grade? Passing! Almost no one could recreate the nasal theatrics of DeLonge, and Skiba didn't try. In fact, he downplayed his own goth brooding found in AK3, at first coming off serviceably generic, but eventually growing more comfortable. 

"Say hello to your newest, bestest friend," Hoppus said while introducing Skiba. #Shade? 

"Down" and "I Miss You" showcased the more sophisticated grooves and darker hues of Blink-182. Barker, for his part, continues to be an absolute monster behind the kit. Skiba faced another test with the famous and/or infamous DeLonge verse on "I Miss You," the one where he does brutally entertaining things to the word "spiders." Skiba played the delivery straight. Miss you, Tom. 

New single "Bored to Death," off California, the band's first DeLonge-less LP from July, exemplifies the Blink formula since 2011 comeback album Neighborhoods: boilerplate angsty alt-rock with (justifiable) arena ambitions. On California, the band enlisted outsider songwriting help from John Feldmann, and the songs lack heart, though the vocal interplay of Hoppus and Skiba already sounds terrific.

At Xcel, Skiba seemed more at home on the tracks he co-wrote, rather than on the ones written by his predecessor. Hoppus introduced the "emo" hit "Stay Together for the Kids" as "Jimmy Eat World having sex with Taking Back Sunday." Skiba's shout-y contributions to the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic felt natural during the booming choruses, and that continued into killer deep cut "Not Now," which was punctuated by a Barker drum solo. He truly is the millennial Tommy Lee. 

"Dysentery Gary" got me emotional. The Enema of the State track came just before a bloated, say-nothing number off California ("Los Angeles"), and that contrast highlighted how we're never getting classic Blink back. DeLonge's too self-important to write lines like "life just sucks" these days, plus, as we've belabored in this review, he's gone forever. Those time-capsule songs still carry emotional weight for Blink lifers, though. 

A brief encore led to a party platter for said Blink lifers -- "Carousel," "All the Small Things," and "Dammit." On the first track, a reminder of the band's humble roots: the line "a tank of gas is a treasure to me," ironically accented by actual fireworks in a hockey arena. "All the Small Things," predictably, brought the fucking house down. Remember how goddamn fun that song is? And finally, the crowd-surfing, confetti-shooting finale, speaking of pure fun. 

The "Dammit" refrain -- "I guess this is growing up" -- was especially profound watching a band resembling Blink-182 at Xcel Energy Center in 2016. Growing up means not always getting your way. To that end, this is not really Blink, we're not at MTV Spring Break '00 watching them, and we paid $45-$80 to feel like kids for an evening. But, as adults, we can compartmentalize those disappointments, and find value in the fact we just experienced one helluva rock show. 

Critic's bias: My 7th grade AIM screen name was briefly JayDeLonge87; I can't express how embarrassing that is to admit.

THAT SAID, I still love Blink, and their '03 self-titled LP is the Pet Sounds of pop-punk (though, as a mega-fan, I'm clearly all about Dude Ranch). Blink was a gateway drug to great music for an entire generation. Loving them in 1999 afforded me the luxury of having snobby thoughts about Joy Division circa 2016. 

Notes on the opener: Missed All-American Rejects because I was attending a retirement party. Think that massive oversight means I should retire? Let's hear it in the comments!

A Day to Remember had the kids -- well, the 20-somethings -- moshing hard. The Florida quintet sorta sounds like a boy band doing hardcore karaoke, but in an oddly pleasing way. The frontman Jeremy McKinnon stole Wayne Coyne's hamster-ball bit; the band hurled toilet paper into the audience, to great applause. ADTR's guitarist was wearing a Harmon Killebrew jersey, so let's assume he's from here (Update: He is! Bet he knows our boy Owl City). 

The crowd: Any labs conducting studies on the Nostalgic White Millennial would have had around 14,000-plus enthused subjects from which to choose. 

Over-smelled in the crowd: The rich aroma of wintergreen chewing tobacco. The entire time. It was gross. 

Random notebook dump: Matt Skiba -- who used to wear priest collars, emerge from coffins, and generally embody everything that goth vibe entailed with Alkaline Trio -- seemed transformed by the powers of pop-punk. Bro had bleached hair and even rocked a pink Strat! 

Random notebook dump #2: After "Dammit," a lil drummer boy -- presumably belonging to one of the Blink boys -- rocked out with Hoppus. Watch your back, Spencer Tweedy. 

Setlist: 

Feeling This
What's My Age Again?
Family Reunion 
The Rock Show 
Cynical 
First Date
Down
Miss You
Bored to Death
Built This Pool
Dumpweed
Stay Together for the Kids
Reckless Abandon 
San Diego 
Not Now
Violence
Kings of the Weekend
Happy Holidays, You Bastard 
Dysentery Gary
Los Angeles
Carousel
All The Small Things
Brohemian Rhapsody
Dammit