It’s April 7, 1993 in San Diego. An 18-year-old skateboarding prom king from Poway, who’s somehow both harmlessly naughty and strikingly charming, paces the floor. He’s anxiously waiting for those who will follow his hand-drawn map and show up to a place called SOMA to see his new band perform. His name is Tom DeLonge and that band was Blink.
Last April on Instagram, DeLonge rehashed this old show poster he penned when he was just 18 years old. The poster boasts the original Blink lineup consisting of DeLonge, bassist and vocalist Mark Hoppus, and drummer Scott Raynor. (Travis Barker would replace Raynor in 1998.)
Much has changed since the days of Blink packing the all ages San Diego hotspot SOMA in the early ‘90s, including the closure and resurrection of the SOMA venue itself. We all know of Tom’s fascination with space and the truth beyond our world, but as the old adage states, there really is no place like home and DeLonge makes it a point to keep in touch with his Southern California roots.
His newest venture, To The Stars INC, a media company focused on the exploration of all things unknown is headquarters in Encinitas, just a short drive away from his childhood home and the famous Sombrero Mexican Restaurant of Blink-182 lyrical lore. He lives just outside of Idyllwild in a quaint Frank Lloyd Wright inspired home. He loves riding his motorcycle back and forth from Los Angeles to San Diego and equates the rush of the tires hitting the pavement to the guttural experiences he had skateboarding down the hills in Poway.
Most importantly, his famed band Angels and Airwaves just ended their US Tour at SOMA. The thing about AVA is that over the past few years, Angels and Airwaves has done it all. They have put out great music, their music has been featured on the big and little screen. They have even done the late night run and were featured on Kimmel, not too shabby!
This past weekend, they played a little all-ages venue that has grown up with him through the years to become a 3,000 capacity live-music destination. I traveled from my home city of Minneapolis to San Diego and had the privilege to watch this reunion between Tom DeLonge and SOMA.
Slow burning incense and a warm glowing AVA called out to the packed venue, preparing us for an experience involving all of our senses. First out on the stage was Angels and Airwaves bassist Matt Rubano, followed by drummer Ilan Rubin and guitarist David Kennedy. Unlike Angels and Airwaves shows prior where DeLonge was clearly the focus of the evening, DeLonge darted out with his bandmates onstage almost immediately which set a different tone for this concert. This was now a cohesive group. This was Angels and Airwaves as a whole. They are writing together, performing together, playfully bantering together, and without any star-powered hierarchy.
The set kicked off with “Kiss and Tell,” a single released during 2019 and recently featured on their 2021 LP “LIFEFORMS.” The crowd erupted, chanting the catchy chorus through beams of concentrated light. Other “LIFEFORMS” hits followed: “Timebomb” and “Euphoria.”
The early banter between bandmates Rubin and Kennedy was very playful and showed the boyish side of DeLonge we all fell in love with when he first hit the scene. Jokes of “It smells like weed in here” and getting in trouble with faux US government agents from Minnesota because the band is playing a note that’s on too erotic of a scale for human ears. The song in question was “Everything is Magic” and the crowd loved it of course; Minneapolis company throughout the crowd thought it was subtly erotic, but still loved it.
The band was quirky and although it didn’t quite fit the theme of the show entirely, it was nice to see them break that 4th wall and let us into their playful world a bit. It prepared us for the stronger messages to come.
I think what everyone is going to remember from this night was Tom DeLonge’s candid story detailing the loss of his father and the spiritual growth that came from this loss. He shared a gut-wrenching story about the writing of “The Dreamwalker” EP with drummer Ilan Rubin and how creating that album was important because he was in such a dark place from mourning. He earnestly shared this to a silent but incredibly receptive crowd. “I want you to know that at the end of the day all the shit you go through; like all the pain when you lose somebody close to you… all the pain of the job, of the relationships you went through, family, the abuse that you went through, growing up around a lot of fist fights and people being cruel. You kind of wonder what life is gonna be about and I’m here to tell you that it’s all gonna be okay. Life is a lot more beautiful than you feel on any given day.” He also shed light on the writing process for the song “Tunnels” and how part was written before this experience and a part after. The band went into “Tunnels” as a crowd of over 2,000 people clapped a steady beat together as one.
The biggest moment for me was the nod DeLonge gave to his early days in Poway with former bandmate, Mark Hoppus, who just survived his battle with cancer. “It’s literally like a miracle so what you are going to do, you’re gonna sing along with me, you’re gonna move a little bit you’re gonna wake up on a Sunday night right now and celebrate that we can conquer shit like that. This song is for Mark, and it’s about the time when I started the band Blink-182 from Poway California.”
DeLonge spoke before breaking into Angel and Airwaves song “Rite of Spring;” a song that doesn’t typically make the band’s live setlist. Rite of Spring is a lyrical narrative of DeLonge’s life from a turbulent teenage life and the years that followed after starting a band in his overheated garage. Perhaps the song title is a play on the hardcore bands of the ‘80s and early ‘90s DeLonge admired; like DC Hardcore band Rites of Spring. This song is truly the lifeblood of Angels and Airwaves. It’s DeLonge at his most honest and so completely relatable for anyone who has taken a chance on a dream.
My only complaint, if you can even call it that, is the 16-song set was too short and we were all hoping for more. The crowd chanted for an encore that wouldn’t come. I asked the crowd what they were expecting for the encore and the most popular answers were favorites missing from the set list: “Breathe,” “Do it For Me Now,” “Kiss with a Spell,” “Young London,” “anomaly,” and “Anxiety.” This band has such a vast catalog it would be a very long set to hit everything everyone wants to hear. cut in half? cut out? I always feel weird about “well, they didn’t play….” comments.
The band was incredibly solid and the sound was phenomenal. There was not a bad sightline or sound experience in the room. With his incredibly hard hits and precision accuracy, Ilan Rubin is one of the most entertaining drummers to watch. In past tours, Rubin would come to the front of the stage playing an acoustic guitar. He is quite a talented multi-instrumentalist and I wished we saw more from him on this tour, however, they still had Matt Rubano and David Kennedy splitting their guitar work with synth parts on certain songs. I also enjoyed seeing DeLonge’s guitar from the years with his former band Boxcar Racer make an appearance toward the middle of the set.
Angels and Airwaves is a must see band get the full AVA experience. For all their fans it was a welcome break from their busy lives. Not to mention the nearing end of the pandemic stress and to be reminded of what really is important. This band does a fantastic job of sending a message to us all; even the cynics and sleepy souls to get up and be aware of how beautiful all this really is. Tom DeLonge’s genuine stories affirm that these lessons only come from growth and it’s all gonna be okay.
Up next for AVA is the UK, that is if COVID restrictions don’t pop up and rear it’s ugly head. Nevertheless, lots to look forward to from Angels and Airwaves.