Sunday, July 25, 2010

311 taps into arena rock while the Offspring revives old hits at Unity Tour stop in Irvine (Orange County Register)

Long before arriving at Irvine’s Verizon Wireless Amphitheater Saturday evening for 311‘s summer Unity Tour 2010, I’d framed up a summary of my impending review: the members of 311, though always compelling performers, proved once again that they’d reached a plateau long ago, producing a performance that has become painstakingly static over the past decade.

The notion came from my experiences catching the Omaha, Neb.-bred band on all but one (2006) summer Unity Tour since the inception of the annual event. The gigs always upheld good vibes, but went from increasingly repetitive to robotic as the band pulled more material from more recently released, generally humdrum albums (2003′s Evolver and the 2005 followup Don’t Tread on Me), all the while incorporating the same predictable stage antics during every set.

High expectations for Saturday night’s show were further stayed by a brief listening session with 311′s latest studio effort, Uplifter, which is hokey to the point of absurdity. That said, 311 delivered a show Saturday evening in Irvine that proved not only the potential of their new material in a live, large-scale setting, but also that 20 years into its career, 311 is finally within reach of arena-rock status.

While 311 has always emphasized the element of spectacle at its shows (one can surely expect a full-band, drumline-style percussion break during “Applied Science” and a slap-bass frenzy from P-Nut at the onset of “What Was I Thinking?”), Saturday’s concert included a few new features that favored impressive production over music.

Abundant smoke clouds and a grand display of lights continually shrouded guitarist Tim Mahoney, bassist P-Nut, ever-flamboyant MC S.A. Martinez and drummer Chad Sexton, while vocalist/guitarist Nick Hexum took on the role of frontman, addressing his audience from a front-and-center raised platform (much like Slipknot‘s Corey Taylor) for most of the show.

The loudest cheers went up for ’90s hits such as “Come Original” and the heavy-hitter “Beautiful Disaster,” but a resounding chorus of fans’ voices during new rap-rock-focused tracks — particularly “India Ink” and “Jackpot” — suggested that 311 has successfully tailored its sound for large venues packed with loyal fans.

Speaking of loyalty, a remarkably immense crowd turned out early in the evening for a hometown show from longtime punk outfit the Offspring.

The band treated its amped-up audience to more recent radio fare such as “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid” and the aptly named “New Song” — which sounds eerily similar to the Foo Fighter’s “Times Like These” — but it was older tunes like “Bad Habit” and the set-closer “Self Esteem” that, even 16 years after their release, managed to captivate and invigorate, making for a boisterous opening set that might have served as an equally formidable headliner for O.C. fans.

Second opener Pepper — almost always involved in Unity Tours — failed to impress once again, emphasizing goofy lifeguard costumes and adolescent humor rather than genuine showmanship.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Live review: The Offspring, 311 @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre (Hey Reverb)

Seeing the Offspring and 311 after a long, crappy day at work is the musical equivalent of being given permission to throw rocks at every car that cuts you off on the way home, shotgun about ten beers and then top it off by blowing up a big, empty building. Sure, it’s all a bit juvenile and irresponsible, but ultimately, freakin’ A, man.

Tuesday night’s sold-out Unity Tour show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which featured Pepper as the opener and the Offspring and 311 as “co-headliners” (although, who sold this bill of goods?; at the end of their 24 songs, it was clear 311 was considered to be the main event) transcended the miserable weather and wound up being an alt-rock mash-up that kept the crowd manic and moving.

No one was happy that the rain rolled in, but it finally cleared about halfway through the Offspring, and they even decided to make up for it by throwing in a bonus: “Spare Me the Details,” which they haven’t done live in ages. “I hope we don’t fuck it up,” guitarist Kevin “Noodles” Wasserman said, but they needn’t have worried. True, it was the only offering that came out a little rough around the edges –- but no one throwing the lyrics back at the grinning band seemed to mind a bit.

They didn’t have to do it, though -– up to that point, they had already laid out a crisp, solid set that interspersed the rest of their old favorites with a few of the lesser-known tunes. My only complaint: An hour just wasn’t long enough, and as a longtime fan who knew more than just the “You’re under 18, you won’t be doing any time” lyrics from a tightly executed “Come Out and Play (Keep ’Em Separated”), I wanted more.

The Offspring may have become popular in the early ’90s as a punk-metal band with trashy, F-word-laden anthems that seemed to speak to everyone’s inner 15-year-old boy, but since then they’ve evolved into a more well-rounded, if slightly more pop-oriented, group. As with most bands, the problem is getting audiences to appreciate anything that isn’t from the radio rotation, and so the second the piano rolled out for unique vocalist Dexter Holland’s beautiful solo tune, “Gone Away,” which proves his voice has actually gotten better (less yelling, more singing) over time, people pulled out their cells and started texting or turned around and started chatting.

Granted, for this amped-up crowd, a ballad may not have been the best choice. They wanted “Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)” and “Why Don’t You Get a Job” (both off 1998’s “Americana”), and the Offspring delivered with aplomb, but also sent out “Genocide,” with its continual drum cascade from Pete Parada, and a recent tune, the aptly named “Hammerhead” from “Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace,” which featured the strongest guitar playing of the entire night, with its constant, edgy riffing that was soft-pedaled metal overlaid with the thoughtful, sing-songy lyrics.

They finished up with crowd-pleasers “The Kids Aren’t Alright,” from “American,” and “Self-Esteem” from their 1994 second album, “Smash” — “I’m just a sucker with no self-esteem,” they sang. An ironic choice? Perhaps, as they made it clear they fully supported walking off as 311 brought it home.

I admit it — I was there much less to see 311 than the Offspring. I think “three-eleven” — which started in the early ’90s with so much promise as a great mish-mash of punk and reggae and hip-hop and ska and metal — got stuck on the same thin harmonies, limp beats and hookless lyrics somewhere between their 1995 offering “311” and 2001’s “From Chaos,” and never really progressed from there. Fortunately their overall sound is infectious enough that you can dance to it like crazy for a very long time. Which is how long they seemed to go on that night.

Where they did it right: the pumping, addictive “Mix It Up” from “Uplifter,” one of their few later efforts that truly sports a hook, pushing it into two earlier tunes — “All Mixed Up” from “311” and then Tim Mahoney’s unrelenting, edgy guitar riffs of “Offbeat Bare Ass,” from “Grassroots.” From there, it was just folks hanging on for dear life, pumping until they could no more, resting, trying to catch a wave of something from the monotony to reinvigorate, and then getting more beer for revival. Post-bass solo — always a welcome change-up from the drums — “Wake Your Mind Up” was a rough choice out of the box; it was just too numbing, but “Who’s Got the Herb,” from their “Live” album, was sure to be a rousing crowd pleaser this night, especially followed by two faves, “Plain” and then “Amber,” the hit off “From Chaos.”

Throughout most of their show, S.A. Martinez raced back and forth across the stage like Energizer bunny singer, and singer/guitarist Nick Hexum, in kind of an apropos zip-up jogging jacket, jumped up and down in a rock aerobics routine. It was alternately exhausting to watch and egged the crowd on to dance more.

Most apropos, though: their encore of “Feels So Good.”

Was it that we made it through the day, the rain or a marathon concert? Hard to say.

Friday, July 16, 2010

311 go back in time at the Comcast Center (Boston Music Spotlight)

311 may longer be the most relevant of bands but there is no denying the band’s ability to still thrive on stage. It’s hard to believe the boys from Omaha, Nebraska have been at it for 20 years now, but their fanbase remains fiercely loyal and their kinship is real. It was all on full display at the band’s show at the Comcast Center in Mansfield on Sunday as part of their summer “Unity” tour with fellow 90′s favorites The Offspring.

Making their way to the stage amidst roaring approval, 311 quickly got their 7-11 day set on with their staple hit “Down” off their 1995 self-titled album. The band would remain in the 90′s for most of the night. In fact, they would only play six songs released in the new millennium and only two from last year’s Uplifter Album (the awful “Jackpot” and the more bearable “India Ink”). And during this time, the band was all business – and a quick “No power outages or nothing” quip front co lead vocalist Nick Hexum, referring to the band’s issues in town last summer. He would later sincerely thank the crowd, stating, “20 years as a band and Boston has been with us every step of the way.

It was alright by the crowd, who happily joined in for sing-alongs of “All Mixed Up” and “Come Original” or jumped in unison to tunes like “Freeze Time”. Remarkably, for a band with 20-years experience, their fanbase has not aged all that much with a nice mix of teens joining the twenty/thirty-somethings (though they almost all agree that basketball jerseys are fine to wear outside of the Garden). And that energy, seemed to fuel the band on stage. S.A. Martinez, Hexum’s partner in crime, led the way as he ran and rapped all over the stage. The only time he remained still was while working the turntables and by the time the band hit “Grassroots”, his shirt was literally drenched completely in sweat after only seven songs.

As a perennial summertime band, many fans know what to expect to see with a 311 show. The overwhelming highlight of the show remains the band’s drum off in “Applied Science”. Following a very solid three-minute drum solo from Chad Sexton, the rest of the band joined him by playing floor toms and cymbals of their own. Together, they combined for a thrilling percussion assault that was half drumline, half tribal.

Later in the night, bassist P-Nut would shine with a lengthy solo of his own, which gave way to “What Was I Thinking?”. The more mellow vibes of “Amber” followed before they picked things back up with “Feels So Good” and main-set closer “Creatures (For a While)”, which sent the pit in front of the stage into a frenzy. 311 soon returned for a encore that actually began with the into from their 1997 album Transistor before moving on to “Beautiful Disaster”. Bringing the night to a close, the band reached all the way back to one of their first songs in “Fuck the Bullshit”.

Prior to 311′s headlining set, the trip back to the 90′s alt-rock radio hit parade was hosted by The Offspring. They did not disappoint in the role, warming up the crowd with hits including “Bad Habbit”, “Gotta Get Away”, “Pretty Fly (for a White Guy) and the “Kids Are Alright”. Frontman Dextor Holland took to the piano to deliver a unique rendition of “Gone Away” and later in the set the band covered The Clash’s “The Guns of Brixton”. The hour-long set ultimately came to a close with a rocking run through “Self Esteem”.

Monday, July 12, 2010

311 Heats Up Northerly Island (Buzz Magazine)

The night is cool and the crowd at Northerly Island is ready to heat up. The crowd’s anticipation starts quickly and the press gets ready. Devoted fans and enthusiasts start yelling as 311 appears and opens the show with “Down.” The crowd is pumped. For everyone who became a fan of the band when they released their self-titled album, they’re brought back to 1995 as 311 performs.

The crowd follows the rush that is set by lead singer and rhythm guitarist Nick Hexum. They jump and wave their hands in the air as if they just don’t care—moving like a sea of humans that even a BP oil spill couldn’t calm.

311 allows each member to shine as they make the crowd feel as though they’re the most important fans on the planet. They show appreciation and loyalty by talking with the audience and playing songs from their whole repertoire. Covering basics from their first album to their latest releases, 311 isn’t afraid to play anything because they know their fans will support them with every song they play. 311 performed well at Northerly Island on June 29th and will always play a great concert that leaves you with a smile on your face.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Detroit always a good time for members of 311 (MLive)

The reggae-rock collective 311 is one of the few bands that can pull fans into amphitheaters long after an album has been released. Bassist P-Nut (born Aaron Wills) chalks that up to the act’s devoted fan base.

“A new album, where that used to mean so much, doesn’t mean a ton for bands that have been established for so long,” he said via telephone with The Flint Journal. “I think Pearl Jam is the perfect model for that. ... They’re going to have a special poster every night. They’re going to release the live shows on their website. It’s pretty amazing. It’s definitely something for us to shoot for, as far as how their relationship is with fans and how they give them everything they want. That’s why they can do anything they want to do.”

311, whose last album was the summer of 2009’s Bob Rock-produced “Uplifter,” will bring its “Unity Tour” to DTE Energy Music Theatre on Wednesday with Offspring and Pepper in tow.

“It should be good,” P-Nut said. “It’s another one of the handful of times we’ve done tours with people (Offspring) that can tour on their own with absolutely no problem bringing in thousands and thousands of people. It’s another band that people may come to see more than they come to see us. There are going to be Offspring fans that are going to want to see the show outside of our own. It should be pretty cool.”

P-Nut is especially thrilled about playing the Detroit area. 311’s last experience in the community, June of 2009 at Freedom Hill in Sterling Heights, was an “amazing” one.

“The night before, we were in Chicago,” P-Nut recalled. “We usually play 90 to 100 to 110 minutes on a good night. As we were walking to the stage in Chicago, our manager told us we only had an hour to play because of some noise restriction. We were playing in the city. We were working on the weekend rules but it was a weekday so we had to shut down by whatever o’clock. So we had to cram an hour and a half into an hour. That was really fun. It ended up being a good show.

“By the time we got to Detroit, the next night, we really had another half of a show to play in us and proceeded to just go completely off. The crowd did the same. When there’s real reciprocation like that, it makes it a very, very memorable experience for all who attend. I walked off stage going, ‘I wish we would have filmed that. That would have been something to watch over and over again.’ It was so much fun.”

This time around on tour 311 is going to be writing new material for a forthcoming album. The particulars of the album are up in the air, however, because 311 — which also includes DJ/singer SA Martinez, drummer Chad Sexton, vocalist/guitarist Neck Hexum and guitarist Tim Mahoney — parted ways with its longtime label, Jive Records. It has a few songs under its belt already that it wrote prior to 311 Day, a concert it holds in New Orleans on March 11.

“We’ve got seven or so new songs that we’re playing around with,” P-Nut said. “We haven’t touched them in awhile. I think we’re taking a step back and writing more stuff, kind of all of us on our own. Hopefully we’ll learn a couple more songs before the tour begins. I know I have one or two that are pretty much ready. I’m really excited about. That’ll be nice to add to it. Then we can rehearse those at soundcheck and get ready to play a ton of different songs this summer.”

P-Nut said he doesn’t think any of those new songs will surface at shows this summer.

“I’m sure we won’t play any of the new stuff this summer,” he said. “Anyone who’s hanging around outside the show will hear something as we soundcheck. I think it would be fun to do some day. We don’t really do that too much; play stuff that no one’s ever heard of. It gets kind of a lukewarm response even if it’s the best song in the world. The relatability is a little low.”