BLINK-182 were undisputed poster boys for mainstream pop punk, thanks to their mischievous antics and radio-friendly hooks -- not to mention videos that presented the trio as a tattooed, pierced alternative to the boy-band clones that saturated MTV during the late '90s.
But after a 10-year stretch in which the band sold 20 million albums worldwide, toured relentlessly and appeared in countless videos, lead singer Tom DeLonge changed direction.
A year after Blink announced an "indefinite hiatus," DeLonge is debuting his decidedly different project, Angels & Airwaves, with an energy that all but closes the book on his old trio.
On Monday, the first of four scheduled nights at the Troubadour leading up to an appearance at Saturday's KROQ Weenie Roast y Fiesta, DeLonge brimmed with excitement as he charted his new course -- a high-decibel, strobe light-embellished spectacle showcasing cuts off the band's Geffen debut, "We Don't Need to Whisper" (due May 23).
(The band's Wednesday and Friday shows at the Troubadour were canceled when DeLonge came down with a throat infection, but as of Wednesday morning the Weenie Roast appearance was still on.)
Both the album and its staging suggest DeLonge is reaching for an epic, U2 feel, and on several cuts he takes hold. His reverb- and synth-heavy jams build from long instrumental introductions to crescendos that come off as melodramatic at times. DeLonge's nasally croon, which lent itself so well to Blink's bratty ditties, may have been a bit limp in this context, but his giddy, heartfelt delivery sucked you in.
A few days before, on the phone from San Diego just after a sound check for a hometown show, DeLonge's passion is equally unbridled. He'd almost come off as arrogant if it weren't for his willingness to open up about the emotions he wrestled (and still does) after leaving his old band.
"We were different people than we were when we started the band. And being different people, we had different goals and priorities in our lives," he says. "I mean, I never wanted to quit that band. I started that band. I loved playing with those guys. They're amazing, but at the end I just couldn't see myself operating in that environment anymore. The communication just wasn't good."
DeLonge's maturing songwriting and its influence on mates Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus were definitely evident on Blink's last record, which featured less potty humor and more explorations of love and loss. Still, for all but his hard-core fans, the singer-guitarist's new prog-rock sensibilities may come as a surprise. "Whisper" is a grandiose conceptual album in the truest sense, with each cut outlining DeLonge's inner struggles after the Blink breakup and his eventual redemption through Angels. There's also a political subtext.
"I'm using war as a metaphor for human conflict," he explains. "I wanted to write something that didn't have anything to do with Iraq, but at the same time everybody could take that from it if they wanted to. There's also a lot about World War II, which was like the last great romantic war."
It's ambitious. And for the most part, cuts such as the soaring single "The Adventure," "It Hurts" (a ballad about the guilt he felt playing with a bunch of new musicians) and the riff-heavy anthem "The War" all have the melodic punch to be potential hits, thanks to DeLonge's writing and the talents of his backing musicians -- guitarist David Kennedy (formerly of DeLonge's short-lived side project Box Car Racer), bassist Ryan Sinn and drummer Atom Willard.
While there's none of the wackiness or whimsy that made Blink-182 appealing, DeLonge wants A&A's war-themed compositions (he wrote all the music and lyrics) to be anything but a downer.
"I think what we're doing is so different from most rock 'n' roll bands right now," he says. "Most are being really dark in their fashion and spending so much time talking about how angry they are. This band is highlighting ideas of futurism and really singing about positive things and energy. It's about hope."
DeLonge points out that Angels & Airwaves is not just a temporary side project.
"My goal is to pick up where I left off and take it to a larger level," says DeLonge, who admits he hasn't spoken to his old Blink-mates since the breakup. "To walk away from a band that was that huge, selling out arenas, at the height of our career with a critically acclaimed record and a whole future to be written, I mean it was a gnarly decision and I didn't take it lightly. But now I'm being myself completely for the first time and I'm focused on making this the biggest band in the world."
Lina Lecaro may be reached at email@example.com
Angels & Airwaves
What: KROQ Weenie Roast y Fiesta
Where: Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, 8808 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine
When: 5 p.m. Friday
Price: $55 to $65 (sold out)
Info: (949) 855-8096