There were aliens at Ak-Chin Pavilion last night — little inflatable green men flying over the heads of the crowd. Someone to the right of blink-182’s stage hurled the space invaders into the crowd as the band started playing “Aliens Exist.” Whether or not this Invasion of the Blow-Up Dolls was meant as a sly dig on their former bandmate/UFO-ologist Tom DeLonge is hard to say, but it couldn’t help but draw attention to what was missing.
The band delivered pretty much every hit you could possibly want to hear from them, and even threw the cinephiles in the audience a bone by playing Samuel L. Jackson’s “Ezekiel” speech from Pulp Fiction as their walk-on “music.” And yet, despite the tight professionalism of their set, something was missing: that voice.
You know the voice: Tom DeLonge, King of the Nasally Singers, Lord Paramount of the Realm of Nails-On-Chalkboard, and First of His Name (in Case Any Aliens Come Around Asking for a Tom). Growing up in the age of TRL, when music videos were still a thing you could actually stumble onto while channel-surfing, I quickly became a Hoppus stan. This had everything to do with the fact that his singing voice didn’t make me want to pour cement in my ear to make the pain stop. It took me a long time to get used to that voice, to hear its inherent brattiness as a good thing.
Watching blink-182 without DeLonge sharing vocals with Hoppus is just weird. Skiba does a good job in DeLonge’s place. He sings the songs with enthusiasm, and clearly has a rapport with the other two points in the triangle. But listening to “All the Small Things” without that nasally, shaky voice carrying the tune felt … wrong, like trying to watch The X-Files without Mulder and Scully, or listening to a Kim Deal-less Pixies.
Still, it’s hard to fault the rest of the band for wanting to go on anniversary album tours while Tom is off getting his Jacques Vallée on. And there were moments in their show where that old impishness that made blink-182 such a fun band returned — like the confetti cannon mishap during “Small Things.” Firing a volley of long streamers at the crowd, a bunch of the colorful paper got snagged on one of Ak-Chin’s giant overhead fans and turned into a spinning tangle of ribbons (like a bowl of spaghetti that had achieved sentience).
“I guess we shot our load too soon,” Hoppus quipped afterward. The singer also introduced one of the band’s more serious numbers, “Adam’s Song,” by saying “respect the sadness of this song by holding up your cellphone light … or vape pen … or Tamagotchi.”
The blink-182 set was fine: exactly what you’d expect them to be. It’s fun, bouncy, occasionally scatological pop-punk — a pleasure to listen to so long as you don’t think too hard about the irony of dudes on the cusp of 50 singing “What’s My Age Again?”
Lil Wayne’s set, on the other hand, was not a well-oiled machine. It was unpredictable, strange, and a bit of a mess. It also felt vital and alive in ways that blink’s mall-punk show did not.
Weezy performed with a full band: bass, drums, keys, a DJ, and a shirtless guitarist in a top hat who looked like LeBron James doing Mad Hatter cosplay. Rows of fake speakers and cabinets towered behind him and hung from the ceiling; his drummer, keys player, and DJ performed on elevated stages behind Wayne while he was flanked by his two guitar players. Thank the gods old and new, Wayne did not strap one of the guitars on himself and give us any Young Money shredding. He left the sweet-licking and riffing to the professionals.
Wearing a white scarf that looked like it was lifted from one of Steven Tyler’s mic stands and smoking a fat blunt with even fatter rings festooned on his fingers, Lil Wayne treated the stage with the sloppy, easy grace of a drunk at a wedding about to deliver a speech. It felt like at any moment he might wander off the stage; you couldn’t take his presence for granted.
It was clear that Weezy was taking a lot of ideas from the rock playbook for his performance: the live band accompanying him, the Tyler scarves, taking the stage to the stomp-stomp-clap of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” But he was able to take these familiar elements and do something different with them, like in the way he’d graciously interact with the crowd.
”Make some fucking noise for yourselves,” he’d shout when the crowd roared for him. Wayne was quick to express his gratitude for his fans throughout his performance: “I ain’t shit without all of you.” Or how he’d use the live instrumentation to pull a Bob Dylan and make some of his songs (like “6 Foot 7 Foot”) almost unrecognizable.
Speaking of unrecognizable: Sound issues were a bit of a problem during his set. It was often hard to hear what he was saying when the band was playing. The drums dominated the mix, often pushing his voice under all the other instruments. Blink had a bit of this going on, too, with Matt Skiba’s vocals. And there were a few moments where it became hard to tell if Wayne was actually rapping or just lip-syncing through portions of his set.
But when Weezy was on, he was on. He did his “Old Town Road” remix and the crowd gleefully sang along. With his band on the sidelines, he rapped through a series of his guest verses: “Bed Rock,” “The Motto,” “HYFR,” and his sleepy yet sublime verse on Chance the Wife Guy’s “No Problem.” Backed by his band, “Mrs. Officer,” “A Milli,” and “Lollipop” had an extra oomph to them. The whole set had a weird Family Values Tour throwback vibe to it, as though Wayne and the gang had beamed down to us from a parallel universe where rap-rock wasn’t a complete abomination.
As for his tourmates, Wayne had nothing but good things to say onstage about the “big homies” blink-182. It’s just a shame that Tom wasn’t a part of all this: They could have billed the double-header tour “What’s a Goon to a Martian?”
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Last Night: Lil Wayne and blink-182 at Ak-Chin Pavilion in Phoenix.
The Crowd: A sea of faded punk shirts draped across even more faded tattoos, rubbing elbows with teens old enough to have probably been conceived after their parents went to a blink-182 concert.
Overheard: “Apparently his DJ forgot Jay-Z is still alive,” one of the bros seated behind me muttered after Wayne’s DJ christened him “the best rapper alive.”
Critic’s Notebook: Judging from the lyrics to “A Milli,” Lil Wayne probably doesn’t play Dungeons and Dragons. Any RPG player worth their salt knows that a (presumably human) goon would wipe the floor with your average goblin. Wayne should have compared himself to something with a higher Challenge Rating, like a Gnoll Pack Leader or a Demilich.