Monday, June 30, 2008

Live Review: 311, Snoop Dogg

At the Irvine stop of 311's 2008 Unity Tour, Snoop Dogg's set was a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll and a lot of gangsta rap. For nearly an hour at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre (Live Nation), Snoop Dogg proved why he remains rap's most forward-thinking "P.I.M.P." His set swayed from stoned, soulful rhymes about "gettin' down" to classic, pistol-poppin' O.G. anthems. After a montage of footage from classic gangster movies, "Big Snoop Dogg" busted out on stage with "Next Episode." It was the perfect opener, because the crowd immediately started singing, grinding and, of course, smoking. He did a Crip-slide across the stage, spitting each verse flawlessly, matching his vocal cadence to Dr. Dre's classic beat. Next up, Snoop and his full band fired off "Hell Yeah." The song's crunchy guitars matched Snoop's edgy lyrics, and it could've started a mosh pit. "Staxxx In My Jeans" also maintained a metallic edge, as Snoop showed that he's gangsta enough to rock.

After inciting an "I wanna get fucked up" chant, Snoop kicked it old school on "Gin and Juice," which led to the biggest sing-a-long of the night. Even though the jagged guitars and raw distortion showed Snoop's rawk side, he still knows how to please the girls. He smiled and exclaimed, "Nobody cares about the ladies like Snoop Dogg does," before jumping into "I Wanna Fuck You." Midway through the song, Snoop's saxophonist churned out a jazzy solo that wouldn't have been out of place on a Miles Davis record, but strangely, it suited Snoop just fine. Snoop even took the time to show props, pointing at the saxophonist through a haze of smoke on stage. "That's That Shit" and "Sexual Eruption" also targeted "the beautiful ladies in the crowd." Snoop commented, "I'm not much of an R&B singer. That's not my bag, but I want to give you ladies something that makes you feel good." Live, Snoop pulls off the sexy songs with an undeniable charm, as he keeps dancing, and The Snoopadelics keep grooving.

The biggest surprise came when Everlast hit the stage for a spot-on rendition of his country collaboration with Snoop on Ego Trippin', "My Medicine." The twangy guitars complimented Snoop's voice, and the new cut elicited big cheers. Following it up with the classic House of Pain jam, "Jump Around," didn't hurt either, and Everlast's appearance was much welcomed. Snoop masterfully proved to be the simultaneously violent and mellow "G," brandishing razor sharp rhymes that cackled like Beretta shells during "What's My Name?" Snoop still has a throne in the hip hop palace.

Meanwhile, 311 brought the house down. At first glance, the bill seemed like a weird pairing—the long-running alt rock-funk quintet with a penchant for positive lyrics and one of gangsta rap's finest. It doesn't sound like it should work, but it's one of the best jaunts happening summer. 311 stirred a veritable melting pot of influences and sounds. They didn't say much in between songs, because their music said it all for them. They started their two-hour set with breakthrough single "Down," and immediately the audience became transfixed.

Because each band member is so distinct, 311 harness a classic rock energy on stage. Guitarist Tim Mahoney shreds funkified grooves, equally channeling Jimi Hendrix, Dimebag Darrell and John Frusciante all at once. P-Nut's bass rumbles when it needs too, but it primarily keeps the grooves popping. Meanwhile, drummer Chad Sexton paints the rhythmic backdrop with his kit. Vocalists SA Martinez and Nick Hexum command the stage. They hold down the hooks like seasoned pros, bouncing off each other with a palpable chemistry, while never crisscrossing or colliding. A stew of punk, funk, metal, alt-rock and hip hop, 311 simmers.

311 also know how to please a crowd. The set was comprised of hits spanning their entire career. "Come Original" and "Amber" were rooted in spacey reggae, while "Freeze Time" and "Do You Right" saw the band riffing with metallic prowess. 311 excel when they slow it down, because each element comes through vibrantly. The Cure cover, "Love Song," saw Nick's pristine melody soar to heights of sonic ecstasy. Meanwhile, Tim's guitar echoed with a sensual tone, and the notes slid right off his fret board. Also on this particular song, SA's dual vocals were engaging, complimenting Nick perfectly. "Beyond the Gray Sky" kept things mellow, but the soulful playing didn't diminish the crowd's interest. Older fare like "All Mixed Up" and "Feels So Good" stilled sounded fresh. However, the set's late highlight, "Flowing," allowed the band to let loose on stage, as they didn't stop moving for a second. The guitar volley between Nick and Tim on "Beautiful Disaster" bordered on sublime, and set-closer "Creatures (For Awhile)" perfectly capped off the night.

Snoop said three words at the end of his set that summed up the night, "Peace, love and soul." Everything else could be forgotten for three hours, and we were all able to have a good time with two of music's most reliable acts.

Friday, June 27, 2008

311 brings rock, soul, reggae to Salt Lake (Deseret News)

Salt Lake City has always been a hot spot for funk-rockers 311, said SA Martinez, one of the band's emcees.

"The fans out there are second to none," Martinez said during a phone call from his home in Nebraska.

"When we go west, and to me, Utah is west, it's one of the first stops we make sure we do. There is a unique excitement there for the band. And we have to play there."

For nearly 18 years, 311 has brought its blend of rock, soul and reggae to fans around the world, touring with such acts as No Doubt, the Roots, Matisyahu and Korn, to name a few.

This year the band — Martinez, drummer Chad Sexton, bassist Aaron "P-Nut" Wills, guitarist Tim Mahoney and vocalist/guitarist Nick Hexum — will hit the road with Snoop Dogg.

"When we first started doing this, we would have never believed that Snoop would be on the road with us," said Martinez. "In fact, we never really saw it coming."

Even when 311 played New York's AmsterJam festival in 2005 with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Snoop, it didn't occur to anyone in the group to ask Snoop to join a tour.

"It just kind of happened over the past three years," said Martinez. "I think that's what makes this job choice enjoyable — there's that unknown variable that shakes things up."

Still, it's also that unknown variable that keeps the guys in 311 on their toes.

"While we had ideas of what we wanted to be as a band, we didn't set particular goals," said Martinez. "We all feel if you do that, you also set yourself up for disappointment. Longevity of a band lies heavily in the hands of fate or chance.

"Throughout our career, we've seen ups and downs. And it's a very different landscape than when we first started," he said.

Back then, the Internet was in its early stages. There was no MySpace, and MTV played more music than reality shows, said Martinez. And radio today isn't as friendly as it was.

"It's still an uphill battle for a band," he said. "And while the Internet is a great tool for bands, it also creates more competition. Anyone can set up a MySpace page and put their music on it." And, he noted, it's hard to get on the radio, because stations are being run by people who don't understand music.

"We're lucky to have started when we did and to have the loyal following that we do."

311's last studio CD, "Don't Tread on Me," was released in 2005, and Martinez said it is time that was corrected. "We've been working on a new CD and have 10 songs down."

The yet-to-be titled CD will be released sometime next year, said Martinez. "We'll do this tour and then return to the studio to fix and tweak things."

This time around, the band is working with producer Bob Rock, who is best known for his work with Metallica, Bon Jovi and Nina Gordon.

"He was on a short list that was made by someone in our management," said Martinez. "The band never thought about him, but when his name was mentioned, we felt he could do it.

"We do like working with young producers, but Bob has a lot of experience. We had no idea what to expect, but we met with him and decided he was the one.

"He is not an imposing figure, physically, but his knowledge about music, sound and arrangement is amazing. He's worked with Metallica for Pete's sake!"

311 Gears Up for a summer with Snoop Dogg (OC Register)

Brendan Benson and bluegrass? Cult tunesmith Jon Brion and the new Robert Plant & Alison Krauss collaboration?

These are the makings of the next album from the blunted groove merchants who gave us "Down" and "All Mixed Up" and "Amber"?

Well, they're at least one element, anyway, says Nick Hexum, lead singer and chief songwriter for the rap-rock-reggae-etc. outfit 311.

"Those harmonies on the Plant & Krauss record are just beautiful," he gushes. "I'm more into stuff that people might not associate with our band - like power-pop, these bands that are pretty much sons of the Beatles. There's one down-speed song we've done for the new album that I think is closer to 10cc or Supertramp.

"We like to keep the ingredients that influence us very eclectic - that's what keeps our music changing. Some people think they can master music, but that's when you know you're lost. We know that we really know only a little, and that we'll never be done."

It has been three years since 311 put out its last album, however, and it'll be close to four by the time its next one arrives. Which may explain why, even as the Omaha-born band prepares to head out on its largest tour ever, in a co-headlining stint with Snoop Dogg that pulls into Verizon Wireless Amphitheater Saturday night, Hexum is brimming with talk about where the group's nearly two-decade evolution is leading these days.
For starters, this ninth studio set (which he hopes will be remixed in winter and released in spring) is bound to be a big booming thing - that's what you get when you enlist longtime Metallica producer Bob Rock, who most recently revitalized another survivor of the '90s alternative boom, the Offspring.

"He's such the master of arena-rock and singalong choruses," Hexum says, "so he's got our minds thinking of that already." Production has been deliberately halved, the summer outing with Snoop serving as a breather. "It gives us a chance to step away from what we've already done, and remind ourselves of what's working live, so we can get a dose of that energy."

Feeding off that would seem obvious - for as many hits as 311 has coughed up, the quintet (including vocalist Doug "SA" Martinez, bassist Aaron "P-Nut" Wills, guitarist Tim Mahoney and drummer Chad Sexton) remains first and foremost a touring force, one of few acts of its era to still be expanding its live audience regardless of how its records fare.

Perhaps that accounts for the increased eclecticism in the studio: When you've got nothing to lose, what's the harm in throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks? Especially when you don't think very highly of the last record you put out.

"I don't feel 'Don't Tread on Me' (2005) is quite up to the standard that we hold," Hexum admits. "Certainly there have been times in 18 years together when our attention has slightly drifted. But there's a renewed hunger and excitement now - we're not anywhere near done. We look at bands like U2 that have this sort of renaissance, when they find their groove again, like on "Achtung Baby" and "Zooropa" - and we think, 'Why not us?'"
Still, Hexum says the band doesn't harbor illusions that the next disc will be an instant smash.

"It's pretty nuts: If you had two charts side by side, one of them would be how well we were doing with radio, and that would be up and down and up and down. But then the other one would be touring - and it'd just be a steady line going up.

"When you consider that our record sales have fallen off at least as much as the industry as a whole has, people would assume that we'd be back playing clubs. So the fact that we're doing this tour, and each one seems to get bigger than the last, it kinda leaves us stumped in a way. It's some sort of magic that we have been us and the fans, and between the five of us. I've had a lot of failed relationships over these past 18 years, and to have this one with the same guys is amazing.

"It's the goose that keeps laying golden eggs, and we're not gonna kill it anytime soon."

Friday, June 20, 2008

311 Discuss Summer Tour & New Album (Planet Verge)

It’s time for 311’s annual summer tour and this year the band is hitting the road with Snoop Dogg! The band discusses their success and upcoming album below.

Read on and then head over to where PV is the featured Music Critic!

311 Q&A: Answers by Nick Hexum (vocals/guitar), SA Martinez (vocals/dj), P-Nut (bass).

311 is once again headlining amphitheaters this summer. In recent years, 311’s live concert draw has grown larger than ever, with many shows drawing crowds of 10,000 people or more. How does the 311 touring machine continue to get bigger and stronger over the years?

NICK: I think our shows continue to grow because of the special connection that we have with our fans and that our fans have with each other. We’re extremely grateful that so many people want to come to the shows and we’re deeply committed to putting on an exciting show every night.

SA: I think our growing concert draw is a reflection of our growth as a band over the years. What we’ve been experiencing in recent years is the bridging of the generations. Some of our fans who have been with us for a long time are now sharing their musical connections with their younger siblings or even with their kids. And historically bands that have stayed together over many years tend to attract new fans as younger generations come of age and discover the music for themselves.

P-NUT: Our shows keep getting bigger for two reasons. First off: we tour every summer and because of that, it’s become an annual event that people don’t want to miss. People know we’ll be coming and plan accordingly. Also, we have the best advertising agency in the world, OUR FANS. The people who tell their friends to come to a 311 show to have a great time have given this band longevity. We thank them for that.

311 always brings out impressive, diverse acts on tour from The Roots to Matisyahu to Papa Roach to The Wailers (and years ago Incubus, No Doubt & Korn). This summer Snoop Dogg and Fiction Plane join the bill. How do you feel about 311 and Snoop teaming up for the summer journey?

NICK: We couldn’t be happier about it. We’ve been fans of Snoop for a long time. He has managed longevity in the hip hop world which is extremely rare. The pairing comes at a great time for 311 because the pendulum has swung back towards raps and dope beats in some of our music – so this summer will be a blast!

SA: The 311 and Snoop package is just a natural progression for both acts. We’ve always had diverse acts open for us because of our diverse musical stew (mixing rock & reggae & hip-hop). I think our fans will love seeing Snoop, and I think he’ll definitely widen his fan base because of the match-up.

P-NUT: 311 and Snoop will be a legendary pairing that shouldn’t be missed by anyone who likes musick and goodness.

What can 311 fans expect on this summer’s Unity Tour?
NICK: Copious amounts of fragrant funk and rock and relaxed reggae. We tailor each set list to go with the vibe we are feeling, so each night is a unique experience.

SA. 311 fans can expect what they always expect from a 311 concert experience – a GREAT SHOW! I think our reputation speaks for itself.

P-NUT: Fans can expect to be have the times of their lives. (no refunds for having no fun).

311 has been writing material for a new album for a tentative Spring 2009 release. Has the band approached writing and recording this new album any different? What direction do you see the new songs going?

NICK: The new songs build on themes that we have started before but take them leaps and bounds further. I cannot think of a time that we have worked as hard for so long on a collection of songs. Personally, I have been expanding my knowledge of theory and learned many new jazz guitar chords so the textures are getting more complex without losing the catchiness and groove of our previous stuff. One thing we have been mindful of is writing grooves that make people want to dance. The songs are going to be great live and also interesting to just listen to on headphones.

SA. I think this album is going to be a benchmark in our career. It has come together so far like no previous 311 recording. Everything continues to evolve.

P-NUT: We are making sure this album is a fully thought-out and realized piece of creativity for all to enjoy.

311 will be recording the new album with esteemed producer Bob Rock (Metallica, Bon Jovi, The Cult, etc). How is that relationship with Bob going and what do you see Bob bringing to the new album?

NICK: Bob brings a fresh point of view to our music. It’s the perfect fit. There have been countless times where Bob makes a suggestion and the bandmembers look at each other and say, “Why didn’t we think of that?” He’s an amazing engineer that is getting the best tones, but he’s also very much a song guy.

SA. Bob’s great. He’s able to hear what belongs in the song and what is cluttering it.

P-NUT: This recording experience (so far) has been great because of having Bob at the controls; nice to learn from a new master. Bob makes sure everyone is giving their best.

311 just rocked another sold-out 3-11 Day show in New Orleans. 14,000 Tickets were sold to fans in all 50 U.S. states and 12 different countries. The band played for 5 hours (63 songs). What makes that show so special that it brings your fans together from all over the world?

NICK: 3-11-08 was one of the greatest nights of my life. There was so much energy and love in the arena. It was overwhelming but only in a good way. Our band has not won a lot of awards and such but this night really reminded us how far we and our fans have come together. It felt like winning a Grammy or something even better. I was so charged by the crowd that I didn’t get tired until ninety minutes after the 5 hour show. Then I ate some pizza and fell asleep. What a night!

SA. 3-11 Day is the best. It’s a lot of work, but so worth it. On everyone’s part – band and fan alike. We all sacrifice for that day but the love that is shared is so important for our growth and continual transformation.

P-NUT: The sheer numbers of the 3-11 Day show makes it so special. People know we are going to put on the show of shows and since it’s every other year, it’s always fresh when we assemble our all star team of songs and fans. And that’s what it’s all about.

How do you see the next handful of years going for the band?

NICK: I expect big things for us. There is an excitement and cooperation in the studio and backstage that is palpable. I believe our fans are going to sense it at the shows and when they hear the album. There is no end in sight for us. We’ve gotten a second wind fueled by our fans, both old and new, that makes us very grateful. Onward we rock!

SA. The next few years, (which will fly by like they all do) I see us continuing our expansion, musically and geographically. We’re going to tour more and share the love.

P-NUT: I see the next years for 311 being about taking the musick to new and expanding audiences. Respect to all 311 fans and lovers of life.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

311, Snoop Doog Pledge Unity on Tour (Billboard)

311 and Snoop Dogg are teaming for the summer co-headlining Unity tour, which will also feature support from rock act Fiction Plane. The outing will begin June 24 in Phoenix and run through Aug. 3 in Austin, Texas.

311's long-running Unity tour has previously boasted support from the Roots, Matisyahu, the Wailers and O.A.R. The group, which is working on its next studio album, is also winding down a spring run this week.

As for Snoop Dogg, he's still riding high after the success of his single "Sensual Seduction" and accompanying album "Ego Trippin'," which recently debuted at No. 3 on The Billboard 200.

Fiction Plane has spent most of the past year opening for the Police across the world. The group will be out on the road in North America with the Bravery beginning April 9 in Fort Collins, Colo.