With Blink-182 on “indefinite hiatus,” Tom DeLonge wants people to know there’s more to him than fart jokes. He’s really a deep, serious guy. You can tell that because the Los Angeles debut of his new band, Angels and Airwaves (the first of four sold-out shows), starts with the sounds of battle and slowly building minor key guitar arpeggios. He also spends a good portion of the hourlong show singing with his back to the sold-out aud, contorting his body into uncomfortable positions.
From the introductions to the songs from “We Don’t Need to Whisper,” the band’s upcoming Geffen debut, it’s clear he’s also spent much of the past year thinking Big Thoughts, chewing over “the conflict between love and war” (he comes down firmly on the side of love) and “whether God exists” (this becomes something of a theological moot point, since the Lord returns to Earth for a day to narrate “A Little’s Enough,” where, sounding like a cross between a superhero and a really good handyman, he announces, “I can do anything, if you want me here/I can fix anything, if you let me near”). If you weren’t already convinced, he bluntly titles one song “It Hurts.”
The music that accompanies these philosophical meditations does for post-punk what Blink-182 did to punk rock: reduce it to a series of formulaic gestures and easily digestible clichés. DeLonge’s vocals have the quavery whine of the Cure’s Robert Smith, Dave Kennedy (who also played in DeLonge’s Blink side project, Box Car Racer) sprays moody, spiky guitar lines and drummer Atom Willard plays (or, to be more precise, overplays) furiously.
The history of comedians attempting serious material is not happy: Chaplin’s “Countess From Hong Kong,” Jackie Gleason’s “Gigot,” and most infamously, Jerry Lewis’ “The Day the Clown Cried.” While Angels and Airwaves is not an unmitigated disaster, it shares with those projects the belief that humor is the enemy of earnestness. A solo cover of Blink’s “What Went Wrong” and the evening’s final two songs — “The Adventure,” a U2-styled anthem down to the harmonic fifths from Kennedy’s guitar, and the crunchy power-chord-driven “The War” are the closest DeLonge comes to lightening up.
Still, you don’t come away with the sense that DeLonge has anything much to say. While the antiwar sentiments he voices toward the end of the show are good to hear, his opposition seems less grounded in politics or moral indignation. His objection to the bombings and death are that they’re keeping people from being happy.
If he really wants to add to the world’s joy, he might want to rethink Angels and Airwaves’ direction and add some of Blink’s jokiness. Even sophomoric humor is preferable to his current sophomoric existentialism.
Angels and Airwaves plays New York’s Bowery Ballroom June 15-16.