Angels and Airwaves Bring Soaring Anthems to Hollywood

Angels and Airwaves

The side project of Blink-182’s guitarist and vocalist Tom DeLonge might as well be called Egos and Airwaves. Pomp, given the circumstances, absolutely enthralled the huddled masses of hoodie-wearing youth at the Avalon on January 23rd. But deep within the object of these kids’ adoration lives an extremely vulnerable front man.

The immensity of Angels and Airwaves’ sound greatly complements the bigheadedness of DeLonge. Forget moving mountains; he’ll move planets if it means he can bask more easily in the neon spotlight. This band, referred to as AvA by its minions (a nod to the singer’s daughter Ava), is a vanity project in the truest sense. The other musicians are ancillary pawns in their leader’s quest for rock domination. On stage at the Avalon — a relocation from the recently shuttered Music Box blocks away — the backing blokes projected no personality because they know DeLonge runs the show. Any charisma on their behalf might deflect from his lack of it in this incarnation.

It would be crass to hope this 36-year-old man would always play the jester like he still does in Blink-182. There is a time and place for everything, and an emo concert doesn’t lend itself well to flatulence. He did throw the audience a bone(r) during an otherwise sincere moment when it was just him and a guitar, chugging away at “There Is”, an honest love song from the proto Angels and Airwaves group Box Car Racer. A spoken monologue between verses championed boobies and blow jobs. Awkward.

Though his wife was in attendance, it was another significant other whose absence really dictated the gig. There is something magical and giddy about his partnership with Blink bassist and vocalist Mark Hoppus (and their gifted, tatted-up drummer, Travis Barker). With Hoppus, DeLonge’s patter is more fluid. A confidence, a brotherhood electrifies the stage. With AvA, the high-watt energy is dependent on their lighting guy and preprogrammed overdubs.

There is the harsh reality about DeLonge: Without the security blanket of reverb of the studio, he’s not a powerful singer. It is a relief his vox have matured from his runt-like drawl of Blink’s Dude Ranch era, but he now nurses a weather-beaten monotone that gets swallowed in a live setting.

To compensate, he takes cues from Bono, reaching for the sky and commanding the crowd to fawn. To his side, guitarist David Kennedy strums The Edge-echoing riffs. The choruses ring with plenty of “oh oh ohs” for the fans to chime in on, but it feels like DeLonge still hasn’t found what he’s looking for. On the songs where he went sans six-string, he held his mic like a fidgety “American Idol” contestant who wouldn’t get voted on to Hollywood week. He even looked pained to snap his fingers along with drummer Ilan Rubin’s thundering beats.

Blink-182’s mentality seems to be “Let us entertain you”. Their rapid-fire wit and astounding variety of punk anthems deliver. Angels and Airwaves’ mantra might be “If you build it, they will come”. The mysteriousness attracts listeners.

On the surface, their live act is shiny, radiant with warm luminescence and messages of love. (Hell, their last two records were called Love. Their song of choice to summon the house lights? The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love”.) Those soaring instrumentals do have a gravitational pull to them. And ushering in the encore, a robotic woman’s voice proclaims: “Tonight shall not be remembered by one but by thousands of relationships”. There’s that veneer of togetherness. But DeLonge’s dour demeanor betrays him, suggesting he’d rather be somewhere else than among the countless faces looking to him for inspiration. He’s like a preacher with a message he doesn’t quite believe himself and yet who proselytizes because he likes an audience.

Angels and Airwaves’ music is not trite (give 2006’s “The Adventure” another listen and tell me you don’t get chills). They know their way around an emotion. But there’s something missing in concert. That something might be Tom DeLonge’s better half, Mark Hoppus.