FONTANA, California — Travis Barker was born in Fontana, making it a sure bet that he felt a sense of homecoming as Blink-182 made their only North American appearance of the year at California's Epicenter 2010 Festival in that very town. The trio's hit-packed set closed the two-day event on Sunday following performances from Rise Against, 30 Seconds to Mars, Against Me! and more.
Afternoon temperatures reached 110 degrees in the racetrack parking lot where Epicenter took place, but the crowd's enthusiasm never seemed to wane, thanks in part to a steady stream of water misters and water cannons. Epicenter 2010 kicked off Saturday with Eminem (in his only West Coast appearance this year), KISS and reunited alt-rockers Bush, among others.
Sponsored by Los Angeles radio station KROQ, the eclectic outdoor event celebrated its second year and moved to the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, part of California's Inland Empire. The Academy Is... kicked off the main-stage festivities on Sunday, looking sharp as they dealt out a deft blend of pop sensibilities and underground angst worked into a taut formula with undeniable effectiveness.
Warped Tour heroes A Day to Remember rode a wave of mosh-pit momentum despite the venue still being less than full in the early afternoon. ADTR have started to crack the mainstream with their mix of hardcore chug and melodic hooks, which has been described as "pop-punk with breakdowns." The Florida-based group is now the biggest band on Victory Records (the label that helped launch Taking Back Sunday and Hawthorne Heights), and judging by the performance they delivered at Epicenter 2010, they seem destined for greater commercial heights.
People looking for punk rock minus any hardcore and with less of the edges worn off were quickly satiated by Against Me!, who hail from the same state as ADTR but play a style more reminiscent of the grimy, up-close-and-personal festivals thrown together in VFW halls without proper permits. Their last two albums may have come out on a major label, but songs like "I Was a Teenage Anarchist" and "White Crosses"
reminded any doubters that Against Me! haven't sold out.
Bad Religion ripped into two tracks from their classic 1988 album, Suffer, the second the veteran punks took the stage. Guitarists Greg Hetson and Brian Baker more than made up for the absence of co-founding member Brett Gurewitz (the Epitaph Records owner generally still plays the California shows as a third guitarist) as drummer Brooks Wackerman, who at 33 is the youngest member, laid down a steady pound. Hetson is also in the Circle Jerks and Baker is a something of a punk icon in his own right, thanks to his time with the legendary Minor Threat and Dag Nasty.
The heat was on vocalist Greg Graffin's highly educated mind (he holds a Ph.D. from Cornell and has taught courses at UCLA) as he sipped a less-than-cold water between songs. "It's warm!" he shouted. "What did you expect?" responded bassist Jay Bentley. A new song called "The Devil in Stitches" from The Dissent of Man, which drops Tuesday, received a warm response from the crowd. There were enthusiastic sing-alongs for well-worn KROQ staples like "Sorrow."
Epicenter's ability to stage full production throughout the weekend for everyone from Bush and Eminem to KISS and 30 Seconds to Mars was impressive, considering the difficulty accommodating so many different headline-caliber acts. Recent VMA winners 30 Seconds to Mars followed Bad Religion on the main stage, which they decorated with a large version of their triangular symbol.
A photographer who shot the band described their set as an "estrogen fest," due to the strong and vocal contingent of females who clearly admired frontman Jared Leto's looks at least partly as much as his singing. The band chose its most anthemic tracks for Epicenter, belting out rousing renditions of "This Is War," "Night of the Hunter" and "A Beautiful Lie" with Leto and the two other permanent members of the band — guitarist/keyboardist Tomo Milicevic and Jared's brother, drummer Shannon — firing on all cylinders.
Sporting a white leather jacket (which quickly came off), black sleeveless shirt, red fingerless gloves and bleach-blond hair reminiscent of his Angel Face role in "Fight Club," Jared Leto led the crowd through an incredible sing-along during "The Kill," starting the song off acoustically, by himself, and ending up standing atop the barricade as the rest of the band backed him with electric power.
His good-natured interaction with the crowd was constant: At one point, he demanded one of the venue's large water hoses and proceeded to personally douse the crowd, which welcomed the relief from the heat. The band filled the stage with people from the audience for their last song, as Leto thanked the crowd continually.
Earlier in the day, the second stage was warmed up by Scottish rock trio Biffy Clyro, makeup-smeared upstarts Black Veil Brides and Denmark's New Politics. The Black Pacific, the new Orange County punk band formed earlier this year by ex-Pennywise singer Jim Lindberg, made Epicenter 2010 their first show, playing just before second-stage headliners Suicidal Tendencies.
Suicidal Tendencies are a Southern California institution. Their 1983 self-titled album helped spawn "crossover" with its blend of punk, hardcore, metal and skate-rock and the unstoppable single "Institutionalized." "Cyco" Mike Muir remains the only original member of a group whose alumni have joined everyone from Megadeth to Metallica; Bad Religion drummer Wackerman played with them from 1997 to 2001. The present incarnation of ST, which includes Mike Clark (guitarist since 1987), closed the second stage with energized takes on live staples like "War Inside My Head."
Rise Against bridged the gap between Bad Religion's social commentary and Suicidal Tendencies' aggression, setting the nighttime ablaze with their Midwestern take on melodic hardcore. Singer/guitarist Tim McIlrath and crew played a set seemingly designed to please the people who've followed them since their Fat Wreck Chords days and those who discovered them on the radio alike. Billed just before Blink-182 on the main stage, the huge crowd reaction proved them worthy of the spot.
"Prayer of the Refugee," "The Good Left Undone" and the acoustic "Swing Life Away" were all highlights, while "Ready to Fall," predictably, generated the biggest response.
While it was said to be Rise Against's last show of the year, Epicenter was Blink-182's only North American show in 2010. The So Cal trio, who reunited for a summer's worth of touring last year after a long hiatus, took to the stage to loud cheers from the estimated 25,000 people in attendance.
Tom DeLonge was wearing a shirt emblazoned with the logo of his apparel line, Macbeth, while Barker was of course shirtless. With the front of his hair pointing high to the nighttime sky, Mark Hoppus regularly raised his hands in triumph during a 90-minute set that was a bit light on their usual comedic chatter but heavy on hits.
Blink will work on a new album soon, with their Epicenter performance serving as ample reminder of their formidable catchy-tune-making prowess. Among the songs in their arsenal on Sunday night: "What's My Age Again?," "All the Small Things," "First Date," "The Party Song," "I Miss You," "Always," "Stockholm Syndrome" and the appropriately titled "Stay Together for the Kids."