One thing you can’t criticize Angels & Airwaves for lacking is ambition. Equipped with an arsenal of strobe lights and U2-esque guitar riffs, the group’s vision was on full display Wednesday night at the sold-out House of Blues.
Since the band’s unveiling two years ago at Pomona’s Glass House, Angels & Airwaves has grown more expansive. As frontman Tom DeLonge said in an interview before the show, live performances have been an important aspect of that progression.
“Someone said (to me) last night, ‘The people that come to the shows, it’s like they’re coming to a play that they’re a part of,'” he explained. “I think that’s what’s really cool about it. That’s what Angels & Airwaves is.”
Nearing the completion of its first tour supporting “I-Empire,” the group’s sophomore effort released in November, DeLonge pointed out this is really the only formal headlining tour it has done so far. As a result, the band made sure the shows would be its most involving and thought-out to date.
As evidenced by rousing opener “Call to Arms,” Angles & Airwaves succeeded. While popular singles “The Adventure” and “Everything’s Magic” where a hit with fans, the band showed off its taste for the theatrical on tracks like “Valkyrie Missile” and “True Love.” Propelled by Atom Willard’s thunderous drumming, the songs took on a life off their own, often culminating in an audience singalong.
The band, rounded out by guitarist David Kennedy and bassist Matt Wachter, was at its best in that ethereal kind of atmosphere. With sweeping anthems “Secret Crowds” and “The War,” it fulfilled its larger-than-life aspirations. However when attempting to take things down a notch, the results were rather mixed. This was mainly witnessed when the group performed a piano rendition of “Good Day,” which failed to capture the epic nature of the album version.
Meanwhile, DeLonge was the focal point of attention. Between sliding across the stage and striking dramatic postures, he proved he remains quite the showman. Never known for having a strong voice, he also showed some improvement as a singer, although he still has a ways to go before he can match the rest of the band’s sonic landscape. Through it all, he was a reminder that things haven’t completely changed since his days in Blink-182, offering playful stage banter and even dusting off Box Car Racer’s “My First Punk Song” along with a portion of Blink’s “Reckless Abandon.”
Meg & Dia was the most impressive of the opening acts. Fronted by sisters Meg and Dia Frampton, the band exhibited an improved presence since last year’s tour with Anberlin. Mixing pop-punk and indie rock, the group also played a few new songs from its upcoming album, which hinted it could follow in Paramore’s successful footsteps later this year.
The Color Fred turned in a decent set as well, although it failed to set itself apart. The band, a new project from former Taking Back Sunday member Fred Mascherino, takes a less aggressive approach but hasn’t yet fully explored that potential. Finally, Ace Enders and a Million Different People served as the fun opener for the evening. After the Early November dissolved last year, Enders proved he is quite alive and well and still capable of writing catchy material.
However, it was evident the crowd was there for Angels & Airwaves, which initially materialized from the wake of Blink-182’s messy split.
“Within a couple weeks after the breakup of the band, I had to plan out the next part of my life,” DeLonge said before the show. “I think in putting together all the elements of what I wanted to be surrounded by, we came up with kind of this great idea of the beginnings of a movement.”
The first phase of that venture, “We Don’t Need to Whisper,” was released in May 2006, followed by an arena tour supporting Taking Back Sunday. The band then took some time off to record its second effort as a continuation of the seeds that had already been planted.
“The first record, ‘Whisper,’ was about a philosophical idea that to overcome a war within yourself, you have to believe in infinite possibility,” DeLonge explained, “kind of a science fiction take on what the universe is all about. ‘I-Empire’ was about the inaction of that idea within your own life. So when you put the records together, it’s about the change in an individual, and a change in the way that individual sees the world.
For DeLonge, it turned out to be an experience he himself needed to undergo. This in turn was reflected in the writing process, which he described as an “autobiographical story from the breakup of my last band to the inaction of that change in my life.”
Part of that change included battling an addiction to painkillers he had quietly developed, which he finally overcame during the making of “I-Empire.”
“You feel invincible when you’re on drugs, which is one of the great things about them, but the bad thing is that it’s all kind of fake,” DeLonge said. “One of the big reasons why I needed to switch things around was I needed to practice the message that I was putting out there. That was always tearing away at me, that I was saying that people can do all these things if they really believe but I couldn’t conquer my own (problems).”
Now that he is sober again, DeLonge has his sights on bigger and better things. This summer the band will be playing the Warped Tour, which he originally took part in as a member of Blink-182 several years ago. In addition, the group also has several things currently in development, including both a documentary and feature length film, an Internet operating system called Modlife and a partnership with NASA for an upcoming tour.
“We’re going to try and take this as far as it can possibly go,” DeLonge said, “and in our minds that’s stadiums.”
While Blink-182 was a band that in a way defined a generation, DeLonge is looking to the future and how he wants Angels & Airwaves to take that connection one step farther.
“Blink took years to catch on but with Angels & Airwaves, it’s like within these past 12 months we’ve really become a band that’s going to be around for a long time,” he said. “I think our next record is going to be incredible, and I think that it will hopefully put this band in specific venues to where we’re able to present the show that interacts with every sense of the human body, almost like science fiction. The idea to take people on a journey and to feel wonderful. That’s the idea.”
Originally appeared in The Orange County Register