He didn’t storm into the party like [his] name was El Niño. That was 2001 (with his MTV smash hit, “Fat Lip”).
This is thirteen years later. Meet Deryck Whibley—the lead singer and guitarist from Canadian punk-rock quartet Sum 41.
After millions of album sales, dozens of world tours, and collaborations with pop superstars Ludacris and Iggy Pop, Whibley took on this night what might be the biggest step of his life: he calmly jumped back on stage to do what he loves most with six strings and amplified distortion.
To the casual observer, Whibley’s return to the stage looked like a quick cameo by a five-foot four-inch bleach-blond guitarist in a cover band.
But only six months ago, Whibley nearly died of alcohol-induced liver and kidney failure. So this night was a momentous occasion for the 34-year-old.
While Horrible Bosses 2 was premiering at the TCL Chinese Theater a few blocks away, Whibley’s return to the stage happened at what might have been the best party in Hollywood that night—at a bowling alley of all places.
The night began with the cover band Toddsplanet, fronted by H20 founder and touring Offspring guitarist Todd Morse. The 10-piece orchestra featured a talented, energetic brood of musicians specializing in rock-hip-hop-groovy-hybrid cover songs mostly from the late 20th century. As they opened their set with covers of “Back in Black”, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked”, and the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You”, the bowling alley turned into the House of Blues.
But this wasn’t a concert Whibley. It was actually a fundraiser for The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank—and a delightful way for Whibley to ease back into the live music scene in the company of friends and family. And Playboy Bunnies, who along with Lucky Strike Entertainment, were a sponsor of the evening.
As Toddsplanet continued their set list of eclectic cover songs, Whibley waited for his cue to come on stage while standing about ten feet back from the front with his fiance, Ariana Cooper, by his side. The mere sight of Cooper standing with her arm wrapped around Whibley elicited a beautiful balance: she is a stunning Los Angeles model standing least six feet tall (without platform shoes), with deep brown hair reaching almost to her waist.
If this were a Sum 41 show, Whibley and Cooper would have been in the epicenter of a mosh pit. Instead, they were soaking up each song belted by Toddsplanet. They weren’t dancing, swaying, or singing. They were content to have come this far together since Whibley’s alcoholism caught up with him half a year ago.
About midway through the set, the cover band’s front man called into the crowd for a guest performer to come on stage. But it wasn’t Whibley.
Strutting to the stage in a light-blue blazer with a fat cigar sizzling in his mouth came Entourage star Jeremy Piven. After a quick twirling of the drumsticks, Piven and the rest of Toddsplanet rocked a spot-on cover of Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”. Later on, the bearded Piven would explain that his biggest influences in the drummer’s seat are Cream’s Ginger Baker, and Nirvana’s Dave Grohl. And it showed. Piven never missed a beat.
Whibley and Cooper grinned and snapped pictures of Piven smashing the drums. But overall, kept their animation to a minimum.
Two songs after Piven on the drums, Morse called upon Whibley to come on stage and and perform a passionate rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Bitch”. Joining Whibley on the guitar was Sugarcult guitarist Marko DeSantis who would take the lead on covering the Keith Richards guitar solos. Whibley stood in the back center, gingerly headbanging and ripping loud distorted power chords on a Fender Telecaster. Didn’t crack a smile. Didn’t sing a word. His friends, several of whom originated in Canada as well, cheered him on. Cooper smiled from ear to ear at her man.
After stepping off the stage, the first person to hug Whibley was Piven. Although Whibley and Piven were taking pictures together in the middle of the crowd during the rest of the show, it is not likely that the Emmy award-winning actor will be filling the vacant drummer job for Sum 41. Steve Jocz, the long-time Sum 41 drummer, quit the band in 2013.
When asked about how he’s doing, Whibley said with poise and pride, “I feel absolutely great…just making new stuff for Sum 41.”
For the next nine and a half songs, the cover band continued to delight the crowd of over two hundred attendees. The night culminated with a 4-minute dance party as Toddsplanet finished their set with a cover of OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” Whibley absorbed it all from the front of the would-be mosh pit with Piven.
Still, for the foreseeable future, the tabloid press will continue to define Whibley as either the ex-husband of Avril Lavigne (they split in 2010) or as just another recovering rockstar alcoholic.
But that could hardly be further from the truth. Whibley is back in the studio churning out another Sum 41 album. He’s alcohol-free, surrounded by talented friends, and even found time during Thanksgiving week to take his Mom to a Fleetwood Mac concert at The Inglewood Forum. He may not have stormed into the party like [his] name was El Niño, but he’s back and looks better than ever.