It’s a strange and troubling thing to be an aging fan of punk rock. In 2023, “elder” Millennials, who lived through the rise and peak of the genre’s “pop” flavor, are beginning to contend with hard choices: Do I keep the mohawk, or do I transition down to a more subdued faux-hawk, at “corporate’s” request? Even if I want to be at the center of the circle pit, can my body still handle it?
Such questions abounded at Blossom Music Center’s showcase of punk-adjacent elder statesmen on Tuesday night, as Sum 41, Simple Plan, and The Offspring put on a spectacle of a show that featured a trio of killer light shows, timeless vocal performances, and many, many beach balls.
Setting off an amped crowd with “Motivation,” a crowd-pleaser from its 2001 platinum debut album All Killer No Filler, Sum 41 set the tone for its 45-minute performance of career-spanning hits. Lead singer Deryck Whibley would be the first of three among the night’s aging vocalists to show he hasn’t lost a step on his range, delivering studio-quality performances of songs that are now old enough to drink, first recorded when he was barely old enough to do so himself.
Near the end of the show, Whibley acknowledged that the quintet’s next album, to be titled Heaven and Hell (it's due in 2024), would be its last. Including only the hits from the band’s fruitful first decade — aside from a cover of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” — Tuesday night’s performance felt deliberately geared to thank fans who may miss a final tour, were one to happen.
“This might mean this is the last time some of you see us, so let’s make the best of it,” Whibley said, as the band launched into “Fat Lip.”
For its part, Simple Plan followed much the same blueprint, knowing that audiences would primarily be familiar with its earliest hits, when the band was blowing up on MTV’s TRL and Vans Warped Tour. Coming to the stage to a blaring Star Wars theme, an explosive transition into “I’d Do Anything” set off a nostalgic, 45-minute set that was heavy on the hits from its first two albums, 2003’s No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls and 2004’s Still Not Getting Any.
Perhaps sensing that the crowd might not be feeling the only newer track featured on the night — titled “Iconic,” from the band’s 2022 release Harder Than It Looks — the quartet reignited the crowd’s energy mid-show with the night’s first inflatable assault, as giant white beach balls flooded the pavilion seating from both sides of the stage.
To a mashup of cover songs, including “All-Star” by Smash Mouth, “Sk8er Boi” by Avril Lavigne, and “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers, audience members seated in these rows kept their eyes skyward to avoid, or punch, the incoming ballistics. Ending the night with a semi-acoustic rendition of “Perfect” that wrapped in a soaring full-band finish, the band avoided leaving the audience cold for the night’s main event.
The Offspring took warming up its crowd into its own hands, anyway, as the half hour between the end of the second set and beginning of the last was filled with carefully choreographed debauchery from the band’s stage, audio, and video crews. Utilizing the video screen behind the stage, as well as the jumbo screens above east and west points of the pavilion, interactive prompts and quizzes, like an X-rated version of what you’d see at a Guardians or Cavaliers game, kept the crowd twerking, making out, and flipping the bird to cameramen as the stage was set.
Throughout a blistering, 90-minute performance, The Offspring seemed continually blown away by a highly-participatory — i.e. LOUD — crowd, which lead guitarist Kevin Wasserman, a.k.a. Noodles, called “a choir of Earthbound angels.”
“It hits me mostly in my heart, but in other places too,” said Wasserman, during a break in “Bad Habit” that saw the crowd give a mid-song ovation.
Sticking within a similar framework to its openers, the quartet stuck mostly to the hits from its nearly 40-year history, including “Pretty Fly (For A White Guy),” “Come Out and Play,” and “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid,” as well as “Let the Bad Times Roll,” the title track from the band’s 2021 release and namesake for the tour.
Mid-set, a white piano was heaved onstage for a touching rendition of “Gone Away,” which lead singer Dexter Holland described as a song he wrote about the death of “the star that was in his life.” Urging the crowd to light the flashlight on their phones for the song, the show briefly took on a wistful tone before being kicked back into high gear.
After closing out its encore performance of “Self Esteem,” The Offspring took a bow at center stage to cap an excellent night of music from a punk-lover’s dream lineup. For how much longer these legendary acts will continue to come through Cleveland is a mystery, but were it to be the final bow, not much more could have made for a better show.
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