Blink-182’s Triumphant Return To The UK | Live Review

London, O2 Arena, October 11, 2023

Photo: Federica Burelli

Exactly one year ago to the day, Christmas came early for Blink-182 fans.

After some serious teasing across social media, an announcement was made confirming that Tom DeLonge was, indeed, back.

Reuniting the band’s best-loved line-up, the guitarist’s return was announced alongside their most extensive world tour to date, and now – nine years to the day since Tom played what many believed would be his final show with Blink-182 – the pop-punk veterans are back in the UK.

Kicking off a run of dates across the country with the first of two nights at London’s O2 Arena, a sea of backwards-facing caps, below-the-knee Dickies shorts, tube socks, and checkerboard Vans congregate in front of the stage. The lights dimming, as the epic orchestral notes of a Strauss symphony sound out through the arena, the smiley face logo appears projected on the stage – a roar going up from the crowd as its five arrows are slowly added one-by-one.

No immediate introductions needed, with a flash of red flares flying out across the room – the trio arrive and barrel straight into opener ‘Anthem Part Two’. With Mark exuberantly hopping around the stage with his signature pink bass guitar, Tom – donning his own backwards-facing cap – takes the lead on vocals, the room passionately singing along to every word.

Rolling straight into ‘The Rock Show’ – the red, yellow, and green circle emblems of 2001 album ‘Take Off Your Pants and Jacket’ dancing across the screen behind them – a swift rendition of expletive-heavy setlist staple ‘Family Reunion’ follows, shortly before Tom exclaims:

“We’re so fucking good at what we do! We’re so good!”

Photo: Federica Burelli

Delivered with the same energy as a kid who’s just nailed their first chord after unwrapping a guitar on Christmas Day, it’s the least explicit thing to leave the guitarist’s mouth throughout their set – his onstage banter with Mark in full swing. Throwing ‘your mom’ jokes back-and-forth, mocking each other for making mistakes, and making sexual comments at any opportunity, the pair laugh and bicker like brothers throughout their set – a refreshing confirmation of their reconciliation.

However, without uttering a single word throughout the night, Travis Barker commands equal attention from the room. His drumkit placed atop a raised platform, the first mosh pits of the night break out to 2003 track ‘Violence’, concluding with the drummer blindfolded whilst nailing a solo most in his profession would work their whole career to master unmasked. Later in the set, the drum platform rises into the air, suspending him five feet above his bandmates, tilting towards the crowd as he delivers a closing solo to ‘Down’.

It’s an impressive visual feat that continues throughout the entire show, a diamond of strobe lights glaring above the trio for much of the night whilst a screen flickers with cartoon recreations of music videos and other graphics inspired by the band’s various eras. An inflatable ‘Enema of the State’ themed floating ambulance – complete with flashing lights and bunny mascot driver – appears throughout fan favourite tracks ‘Dumpweed’ and ‘Dysentery Gary’, whilst fire, smoke, strobes, and confetti dominate the evening.

After Mark boldly proclaims, “We’re better than the fucking Beatles!”, the trio take a moment to usher in a new era of their band. Back-to-back cuts from their highly anticipated upcoming album see Tom screaming the bridge of ‘MORE THAN YOU KNOW’ as pyro is fired out behind him, whilst ‘DANCE WITH ME’ delivers one of the biggest singalongs of the night – the chorus’ “Ole! Ole! Ole!” refrain rallying the already energised crowd.

Photo: Federica Burelli

A rendition of infrequently played extra-terrestrial cut ‘Aliens Exist’ sees a U.F.O appear onstage before a newspaper front page is shown featuring Tom’s face alongside the headline: “HE WAS RIGHT. Government confirms suspicions. Aliens exist”. A nod to the guitarist’s extensive work in the realms of U.F.O research, the moment of sincerity is swiftly interrupted by a double play through of 42-second joke song ‘Happy Holidays, You Bastard’ – once at standard speed, once double – before Mark addresses the crowd:

“You having fun? That shit ends now, it’s emo time… Comb your hair over one eye, grab some black skinny jeans from your girlfriends’ closet, and put on a My Chemical Romance shirt.”

Introducing the mellower part of the set, broken home anthem ‘Stay Together For The Kids’ sees thousands of phone torches light up the room, whilst ‘Always’ sees Mark kneeling down at the front of the stage to sing with the crowd during Tom’s verses. One track from Matt Skiba’s tenure in the band also makes the setlist, with Tom happily leading the room in ‘Bored To Death’s “whoa-oh” outro before ‘I Miss You’ brings the biggest singalong of the night, with all instruments cutting out for the room to scream along with Tom’s iconic second verse.

Shortly after, Mark delivers the show’s most emotional moment:

“When I wrote this song, I was in a really bad place… this song saved my life.”

He’s talking about the band’s 1999 track ‘Adam’s Song’, but almost 25 years on, there’s an added pertinence to the statement. Opening up to the crowd about another – more recent – dark time in his life following his diagnosis with stage 4 lymphoma in 2021, he continues:

“There were days where I felt like I was dying, and days where I felt like I wanted to die… There were times where I didn’t know if I was going to be onstage again… The doctors cured my cancer, but I still felt really shitty and empty inside… This album, this tour, and all of you saved my life.”

A heart-wrenching speech made more powerful by footage of the band’s late ‘90s / early 2000s days flickering across the screen throughout the song, the energy soon ramps back up as the night draws to a close. Kickstarting a victory lap of greatest hits, ‘What’s My Age Again?’ sees a giant inflatable bunny dominate the stage before Tom leads the crowd into ‘First Date’ with a “Hey! Ho! Let’s go!” intro. Charging straight through 1999 mega-hit ‘All The Small Things’ and breakthrough track ‘Dammit’, confetti pours out over the crowd as fireworks explode in the air around the trio before the lights go down.

Photo: Federica Burelli

As the room chants for one more song, it becomes clear that tonight isn’t just a celebration of Tom’s reintroduction to Blink-182, but a celebration of everything the seminal band have accomplished over their last thirty years. Re-emerging onstage followed by his bandmates, the guitarist nods:

“This song is about us.”

Closing the night with the title track of their upcoming ninth album, ‘ONE MORE TIME’ reflects on the turbulent history and the personal bonds between the trio. A heartfelt dedication to how tragedy has brought them back together on multiple occasions, Tom and Mark trade their apologies across the song’s gentle acoustic verses, before Travis lends his rare vocals to the song’s poignant outro.

Putting down their instruments and stepping towards the front of the stage, Tom removes his in-ear monitors to take in the moment – 20,000 voices cheering in his direction. Smiles plastered upon the faces of everyone in the room, the trio put their arms around one another and take a well-deserved bow – Blink-182 are well and truly back.

More like this