By Willow Grier
July 10, 2016
CALGARY — Sunday at the Cowboys tent brought more than two decades of punk rock memorabilia to the Stampede stages. Twenty-four-year pop-punk scene vets Blink-182 shared the stage with fellow 15-year vets The Used, with local support from Cowboys contest winners, the lovable and unpredictably rowdy Bad Animal, who beat out seven other bands for the opening slot. With talks leading up to the show about people boycotting Blink due to the dramatic departure/removal of former frontman Tom Delonge (off to hunt aliens), or qualms about the massive ticket price ($100-150), some were uncertain whether or not the show would be a success. But reservations of these naysayers aside, the lineup to get into the venue hours early was respectably massive. Rivaling the Comic Expo crowds, though much faster moving, it wrapped far around the building and was six humans deep, with many in attendance sporting Blink ink and apparel. Upon entry, the massive tent was packed like a giant, cowboy hat-infested sardine can. It did not go unnoticed how the surroundings juxtaposed strangely in a punk rock setting (later watching a circle pit break out filled with cowboy boots and hats garnered some well-deserved chuckles).
The main stage show began with The Used’s frontman Bert McCracken (wearing his band’s own 15-year anniversary tour T-shirt) ripping onto the stage with a boyish exuberance. The band kicked off their set with “Take It Away” off the much beloved and iconic In Love and Death, a perfect song to get the crowd screaming along and jumping. Within the first song, three or four fights broke out right away with people jostling violently for a better spot in the tent, reminding the crowd that it was in fact Stampede. McCracken immediately addressed the violence by saying, “If you came here to fight, you can go fuck yourself!” After chatting a bit about how beautiful the rest of the crowd was looking etc., the band naturally played the second song on the In Love and Death tracklist, with “I Caught Fire.” It was becoming quickly apparent that people really remembered these songs. The ILAD love continued and somehow McCracken convinced the absolutely squished central masses to create the aforementioned circle pit for “Listening.” From there, McCracken celebrated “old-school Used fans,” as he announced “The Taste of Ink” off their first album. He also was sure to encourage sing-alongs, even asking that fans make up their own lyrics if they had “somehow forgotten the words.” Soon transitioning into “All That I’ve Got,” the audience got a chance to remember the grandiose emotional scream-along ballad side that The Used has done so well over the years. After playing through a rousing version of “Buried Myself Alive” from their self-titled debut, there was a pause where McCracken admitted that he had struggled with addiction for his whole career (as most fans were aware), and then announced that he was currently four years sober. For anyone who had seen the band in years past, his renewed youthful mischievousness and positivity spoke to the improved health he was in over his sometimes-volatile past. McCracken then joked that the band was about to play the “best song in the world,” teasing the opening bars of “Song 2” by Blur, which then morphed into “A Box Full Of Sharp Objects.” The band closed their set with many thanks to the crowd and with McCracken expressing the desire to return again soon. With the recent departure of founding member and guitarist Quinn Allman, doubts had been brought up about whether the overall Used sound would be effected, and while his presence was missed, new guitarist Justin Shekoski (formerly of Saosin) slipped into the position nicely and ensured that the band’s performance was true to their roots. Closing their set with Pretty Handsome Awkward, the smouldering blazing-riff lead single off of 2007’s Lies For The Liars, The Used proved that the night was one for the throwbacks, and this methodology was very well received.
After a painfully slow break between sets (well over an hour), the band of the evening finally took the stage to shrieks and a newly aggressive wave of humans shoving their way to better spots. Blink-182 took to stage with “Feeling This” off their self-titled album. Within this first song, rife with trademark harmonies, it was apparent that new guitarist/vocalist Matt Skiba (formerly of Alkaline Trio) would be a great fit to the band. While lacking Delonge’s trademark emotive whine, his vocals did sound remarkably similar in all the old Blink songs. In fact, for this show the band only played one song off their new album California, again preferring to stick to crowd favourites. These much beloved tracks included: “What’s My Age Again?” “The Rock Show,” “First Date,” “Down,” and “Miss You,” and the crowd was elated to scream along to every word. Mark Hoppus seemed to step up to the role of frontman rather well, also celebrating the band’s storied history and long career. He expressed his gratitude at being back in Calgary and how much better the crowd already was over Edmonton the previous night. He was sure to pass out as much stage swag as possible, routinely throwing picks and sticks into the crowd, and even ensuring a fan in the front row who was holding a copy of Barker’s book got it signed and returned. The band then transitioned into the dramatic “Up All Night,” off of 2011 album Neighbourhoods, and a pleasant surprise of 1999’s “Dumpweed” off of Enema of The State. It was crazy to imagine that this band had been playing music longer than some in the crowd had been alive, and yet their stage presence and energy was still so alive and powerful. Travis Barker, widely regarded as one of the best drummers in the industry absolutely commanded attention from his high drum riser, playing a flawless set despite somehow injuring himself. He would post a picture the following day of his blood splattered drum kit with the caption, “Calgary, for you I left my blood, sweat, and tears on stage. Thank you for an amazing night.” The band played through the remainder of their 20-song set with moments from Enema of The State, Dude Ranch, their self-titled album, and even a little snippet of “Family Reunion (Shit Piss Fuck)” for old times sake. Off their latest record, the band chose “Bored To Death” as the flagship track, and the crowd seemed to be just as receptive as to some of the best oldies. The band closed their encore with fan favourites “All The Small Things” and “Dammit,” and it didn’t seem like anyone in attendance could have asked for a better set. With Matt Skiba donning a fan’s cowboy hat and with a massive explosion of confetti, the night came to a close. There were teary, sweaty, happy faces as far as the eye could see, and it was obvious that this night was a dream come true for many fans.
Despite lineup changes and accompanying drama, both The Used and Blink-182 proved that they still have a ton of fire left in them and are more than worthy of continued adoration and support.AB, Alberta, Blink-182, Calgary Stampede, Cowboys, Cowboys Stampede Tent, The Used