Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Bouncin' at Riverbend (Enquirer)

There are the Dave Matthews hippie-dance maneuvers, and there's also the Jimmy Buffett beach-ball workout. But of all the frat-rock calisthenics a Riverbend crowd endures over the course of a summer season, none is as physically demanding as the perpetual 311 reggae-rock hop.

"Let's get this place bouncin'," demanded 311 lead singer Nick Hexum at the start of the band's Tuesday-night concert, and for the next one hour and 45 minutes, the bouncing carried forth, as 311 played a crowd-pleasing, nonstop set that represented the best of the band's last 10 years of hit-record making.

The Omaha, Neb. group isn't the first rock band to bring reggae elements into its sound, but few others have been as successful in doing so. The band might not draw Matthews or Buffett-size crowds, but no style of music (other than metal, of course) fires up a Riverbend audience like 311's Great Plains rendering of the Jamaican beat.

The songs, and the subsequent bouncing, came in two speeds: calorie burn (like "You Wouldn't Believe" and the breakthrough smash "Down") and cool down (like "Beyond the Gray Sky" and the band's recent hit reggae-ish version of the Cure's "Love Song"). Hexum and his bandmates - vocalist/rapper/DJ SA Martinez, guitarist Tim Mahoney, bassist P-Nut and drummer Chad Sexton - easily negotiated the highs and lows and slows and fasts within the set and sometimes the songs themselves, and the shifting speed-and-volume dynamics kept their reggae-rock monotone from bogging down.

The band's two picks for openers also added to the variety. The Roots, a live-instrumentation hip-hop band from Philadelphia, were to crowd-unison head bobbing what 311 was to crowd-unison bouncing. At their top-dollar best, the group came off like a mixture of New York golden-age '80s rapping and James Brown "Sex Machine"-era grooves. At their not so good, the sextet made like overwrought arena-rock heroes, with guitarist Kirk Douglas (and one particular endless guitar solo) the biggest offender.

Medeski, Martin and Wood began the show, and while the acclaimed fusion-organ trio whipped up one or two spells of interesting ebb and flow, most of their set was unadventurous, straight-ahead groove catering more to hippie dancers than jazz heads.