Why Acts Like Weezer and Blink-182 Are Becoming Touring’s New Titans
As classic rock's touring legends enter their golden years, alt-rock touchstones are establishing careers on the road built to last.
In August 1989 — 26 years after releasing their first single, and seven years since their last tour — The Rolling Stones hit the road. Over the next calendar year, the Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle Tour took the rock legends around the world, playing over 100 shows and reaffirming their commercial clout.
Two similarly epic yearlong treks — 1994-95’s Voodoo Lounge world tour and 1997-98’s Bridges to Babylon tour — followed; the three outings grossed $661.7 million combined, according to Billboard Boxscore, or roughly $1.3 billion today, adjusted for inflation. In the process, the Stones defined what middle age could look like for rock artists and proved that established acts with deep catalogs and legions of fans still had touring potency.
As the Stones crisscrossed the globe in the ’90s, new rock heroes like blink-182 and Weezer were making names for themselves. Now, three decades later, those acts are as deep into their careers as the Stones were into theirs in the ’90s. And as older touring stalwarts like Paul McCartney, Elton John and the Stones stare down their golden years, alt-rock’s now middle-aged lodestars have started to assume the mantle of reliable, top-grossing arena and stadium artists (and at roughly the same time that their most loyal fans, who’ve aged along with them, have deeper pockets to afford such tickets). But the blueprint they’re using isn’t identical to their precursors.
The 2021-22 Hella Mega Tour took Green Day, Fall Out Boy and Weezer to stadiums in the United States and Europe — proving along the way to fans and industry insiders alike that alt-rockers of the ’90s and early aughts could now fill the kinds of venues that were once only the provenance of pop stars and classic rock acts.
“Hella Mega obviously laid some framework for, ‘Hey, these rock tours are still really, really big; these songs are still so relevant,’ ” says Live Nation global tour promoter Steve Ackles, who worked on the team behind the stadium run. “Green Day, blink-182, a lot of those bands in that genre, the songs really never went away. I think there’s an authenticity in their songwriting that has just created timeless music.”
With a gross of $92.2 million, according to Billboard Boxscore, the bill also proved the commercial viability of package tours, the format that forgoes lesser-known openers in favor of support artists who themselves can drive substantial ticket sales. “It was one plus one plus one equals five,” says Crush Music co-founder Bob McLynn, whose company manages Hella Mega’s three marquee bands. “I definitely know it influenced a lot of the different tours out there. A package is nothing new, but I think a package of that nature was definitely groundbreaking.”
On Hella Mega, Weezer played before Fall Out Boy and Green Day, but this year, the band will headline amphitheaters on its Indie Rock Roadtrip, a package offering with rotating support from Modest Mouse, Spoon, Future Islands, Momma, Joyce Manor and White Reaper. “I think their touring is stronger than ever,” McLynn says of Weezer, which toured the United States every year from 2008 to 2019. “I think the fan base is stronger than ever, and I think continuing to put out great new music is a part of that.”
Since 2019, Weezer has released four albums and four EPs, which have spawned four No. 1 hits on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart. McLynn recognizes that “there’s legacies tied to all these acts” but emphasizes the importance of “not just playing defense with the brand, [but] playing offense with it.”
“There’s definitely acts out there that just kind of rest on their brand and their catalog, and they go out and they do successful tours,” he continues. “But most of the acts we work with really are about innovating, and they’re still hungry to make new and better music.” In doing so, a band like Weezer can remain front of mind for existing fans while, critically, reaching new ones — who, thanks to the accessibility that streaming offers, can become superfans in short order.
Pop-punk legends blink-182 co-headlined the Bleezer Tour with Weezer in 2009, and this year will set out on a hotly anticipated trek of its own. While blink-182 toured in the latter half of the 2010s, it hasn’t hit the road with founding member Tom DeLonge since 2014, making its 2023 arena outing — which coincides with an upcoming new album by the original trio and a 13-week Alternative Airplay No. 1 in October’s “Edging” — a must-see for fans.
“This was by far the fastest-selling tour of their career,” says CAA co-head of North American touring and music agent Darryl Eaton, who has booked the band since 1999. “We’ve done the numbers in the past, but we’ve never done the numbers at this velocity.” For Eaton, while blink-182 has a strong foundation of classic hits and longtime fans, it’s far from a nostalgia act, narrowly defined. “I’ve always marveled at how they absolutely regenerate a young fan base,” he says.
Blink-182 hasn’t embarked on its tour yet — drummer Travis Barker sustained a gnarly finger injury in rehearsal, forcing a postponement of the run’s first leg, in South America, until 2024 — but Eaton makes informed predictions about its audience today based on the success of 2022’s pop-punk-focused Las Vegas fest When We Were Young, which blink-182 will headline along with Green Day this fall. At When We Were Young, “it was a lot of young kids,” he says. “Yeah, a lot of people in their 30s and 40s [were] going and reliving it, but it was also a huge amount of energy and interest in a much younger audience.”
Death Cab for Cutie debuted slightly later than Weezer or blink-182 — its first album, Something About Airplanes, dropped in 1998 — but has followed a similar path to becoming a road fixture: consistent touring, reverence for its catalog, commercially successful new material and a big-tent approach that welcomes returning fans along with new ones. This fall, Death Cab will embark on one of its biggest tours to date, and one that was informed partly by industry trends — albeit with a twist.
“COVID-19 happened, but even before then, we started seeing the proliferation of these package tours,” says Brilliant Corners founding partner Jordan Kurland, who has managed Death Cab since 2003, citing Hella Mega as an example. But for Death Cab frontman Ben Gibbard, this fall’s package tour will be an unusual co-headline — one with himself. Shortly before the pandemic, Gibbard had broached the idea of a tour featuring Death Cab and The Postal Service (his one-off project with producer Jimmy Tamborello and singer Jenny Lewis), pegged to the 20th anniversaries of their respective 2003 classics, Transatlanticism and Give Up, to Kurland and longtime agent Trey Many of Wasserman. “It took a little while to settle in, and then as we started seeing this trend, touring these packages, we’re like, ‘Holy sh-t, this is a great idea,’ ” Kurland says.
The tour announcement earned an immediate and passionate response as elder millennials cheered the sentimental bill — Gibbard will play the entirety of both albums at a mix of arenas, amphitheaters and theaters — and younger fans delighted in the opportunity to see The Postal Service, which has only toured twice (in 2003 and 2013) for the first time. But while the rare Postal Service outing, along with Death Cab’s decision to play Transatlanticism, make this tour unique, the latter band has, through reliable performances and consistent releases (including 2022’s acclaimed Asphalt Meadows, which yielded the Alternative Airplay No. 1 “Here to Forever”), cultivated the kind of loyal live following that transcends nostalgia. When Death Cab played Denver-area Red Rocks Amphitheatre in September 2021, “there were a lot of high school kids,” Kurland recalls. “Death Cab has now become a band that gets handed down, whether it’s from parents or older siblings. The band is still finding new people.”
“Gen Z, millennials, Gen X, boomers; it’s a little bit of everybody,” Many adds. “Death Cab has continued to gain those younger fans as they continue to work and play great shows and make great records.”
That may ultimately be the key to touring longevity for rock’s new classics. Acts like Weezer, blink-182 and Death Cab have matured without sacrificing creative vitality or commercial relevance; by comparison, consider Billy Joel, who hasn’t released a rock album since 1993 but still tours a beloved catalog that spanned 22 years in stadiums and arenas, or other peers whose token new songs have long been derisively classified as fodder for bathroom breaks.
“Songs will outlast any sort of genre spike,” Many says. “Great songs go beyond the initial scene that maybe helped make them popular.”
“These catalogs have always stood the test of time,” notes Live Nation’s Ackles. “And now, I think you might have more and more of these bands saying, ‘Hey, let’s go out on a tour.’ ”
This story will appear in the April 1, 2023, issue of Billboard.