HOLMDEL, New Jersey — Despite their hackneyed interchangeability, there's a difference between a rock concert and rock show. Anyone thinking of challenging this should check out a stop on Blink-182 and No Doubt's monthlong co-headlining trek.
Even though they recorded a song called "The Rock Show," Blink's set Thursday night at the PNC Bank Arts Center definitely fell on the concert side of the spectrum. Bassist Mark Hoppus and guitarist Tom DeLonge stood dwarfed by the vast, mostly barren stage, save for five trapezoidal video screens positioned behind them.
Were it not for a shirtless, mohawked Travis Barker peering down from a massive drum riser decorated with the same blessed-out happy face scrawled on the cover of their latest, untitled LP, there wouldn't be much of anything to see at all. Besides, those who stared too long at Hoppus and DeLonge risked being blinded by the six suspended banks of strobe lights (18 lights in all!) whose effect played into the band's adrenaline-fueled performance.
Instead of enticing the eyes, Blink-182 appealed to the crowd's aural senses. Playing sped-up versions of "All The Small Things" and "Dammit" added a thrash-punk twist to a pair of tunes that helped allow the trio to play such a big stage in the first place. Only later in the set did the band get animated. While Hoppus swung his long-necked instrument and pogoed, DeLonge fell to his knees for an unforgiving solo.
The real excitement came midway through the set, when the lights dimmed and Barker vanished from behind his kit. Just as DeLonge's monotonous and overlong strumming neared the point of ridiculousness, spotlights lit up a revolving drum riser at the back of the venue, near the lawn seats. From there, Barker hammered away a drum solo rooted deep in hip-hop and drum'n'bass beats for a display of musical dexterity and brash attitude.
That Barker had to be wheeled back to his place onstage, since he's been gigging in a wheelchair after breaking his foot in March (see "Blink-182 Drummer Breaks Foot In Blunder Down Under"), only punctuated the man's verve.
By contrast, the stage couldn't provide enough space for No Doubt's visually engaging act, which required no less than four set changes. Queen's "We Will Rock You" blared from the PA system as a massive curtain slowly opened to reveal drummer Adrian Young, shirtless and sporting a mohawk of his own, regally perched atop a riser emblazoned with a crown bordered by the initials N and D.
Singer Gwen Stefani welcomed the crowd from the rightmost aisle and proceeded to prance onstage in an outfit that seemed inspired by a Scottish forest pixie. With green swaths draping from her baggy plaid pants and a brown hoodie that left her belly bare, she made immediate use of what became her stomping ground for the next 90 minutes and resolutely marched past bassist Tony Kanal and guitarist Tom Dumont while launching into her signature breakthrough single, "Just a Girl."
Young wasn't the only musician perched level with the cheap seats. Touring keyboard and horn players Stephen Bradley and Gabriel McNair were positioned on either side and never once stood still. Their grooving and skanking relayed the music's fun, swaying feel that somehow was lost on the stagnant and unassuming Dumont, who remained in the background even during his solos, and the gratuitously posturing Kanal.
Even without the five other musicians, Stefani would have still found the stage too small. She covered all four corners with her exuberant traipsing, pausing only for some serpentine swaying that would make W. Axl Rose jealous. The girl obviously adores her booty as much as many male members of the audience do, evidenced by the way she stood in profile before the crowd, slightly bent with back arched, shaking what her mama gave her in time to the rhythm.
The set list was typical of a band pushing a greatest-hits album, and the hit singles "Ex-Girlfriend," "Hey Baby," "Simple Kind of Life" and "Spiderwebs" turned the show into the sing-along party that all the girls wearing identical pink baseball caps had hoped for. "I want you to understand one thing tonight," Stefani said before the band dipped into the island vibes of "Underneath It All." "You are mine, and you'll do what I tell you to do."
Perhaps less of an order than an observance, the statement was nevertheless unnecessary. The audience here was wholly under her spell, given that on this particular night, No Doubt were the best show in town, even if Blink played one hell of a concert.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.