[5 August 2011]
311 officially started its Unity Tour 2011 in Kansas City. The tour, which is quite rapidly becoming nothing less than a summertime rite of passage, also featured Sublime with Rome. Indeed, much like last year’s tour, which included pop-punk band The Offspring, two rather prominent 1990’s artists were presented to the eager crowd. It was a most astute decision then to bring along Sublime with Rome. Furthermore, this year the fans actually arrived. It’s true, 311 did play a full-set warm-up gig in Wichita two days prior for roughly 2,000 fans. However, the Unity Tour formally began tonight.
The fans’ enthusiasm was irrefutable, and unlike last year the amphitheatre was almost filled with admirers of 311. Believe it or not, 311 is celebrating its twenty-first anniversary this year. In point of fact, approximately 11,500 folk were present, and the general admission areas were packed to the brim; only the reserved seats seemed comparably sparse. The lawn section looked like a déjà vu of yesteryear because it was so overcrowded with cheerful 311 fans, and the sad, pathetic economy didn’t seem too important to them.
311 in fact delivered, putting on a twenty-two song set and living up to its regular performance high standard. The adrenaline doesn’t stop for 311, and the group in fact played a smart, key, and diverse set of songs that truly rocked the joint. It was one of the best 311 gigs in my critical estimation.
In particular, 311 was busy promoting its tenth studio album, Universal Pulse (2011), mixed by Chad Sexton. Two songs were played from that record: “Sunset in July” and the straight-up rocker “Time Bomb”. But the band also essentially rehearsed several songs from it stupidly under-recognized and underrated record, Transistor (1997). Obviously, the band was in preparation for its Pow Wow Festival in Florida during which Transistor, basically a double-album, would be played in total.
In some sense the band’s gig tonight was a much-needed nostalgic happening, as the band played four material songs from Transistor—ironically, more songs than from any other album, including the both popular and acclaimed 311, or “Blue Album” (1995). The second song on the set list was “Prisoner”, for instance. Other songs entailed “What Was I Thinking”, “Beautiful Disaster”, and, the penultimate, feel-good “Stealing Happy Hours”. This show was in some respect a tour stop in support of Transistor, which was a good deal. In Wichita, the band played the title track, a lyrical jab at music critics. “Beautiful Disaster”, one of the band’s “greatest hits”, was dedicated by singer Nick Hexum to all the “beautiful disasters”. This tactic was not original in the larger music world. Consider Lady Gaga’s “little monsters” or Marilyn Manson’s “beautiful people”. Still, Hexum succeeded in his move to affect the frenzied crowd, and the song was well-done as per usual.
Some nine or ten songs are always on 311 set lists, and they entail, for example, “Down”, the infectious show opener, “Applied Science”, “Feels So Good”, “All Mixed Up”, and of course “Beautiful Disaster”. But despite the four songs from Transistor, a benefit in itself, the set was fairly well-rounded. Two to three songs were played from notable albums such as Grassroots, Music, Evolver, From Chaos, and 311. And the band also managed to perform new material.
The band rendered an exemplary version of “All Mixed Up”, from 311. Guitarist Tim Mahoney’s technical actions were precise and acoustically sound. The band played the extended version during which Hexum sung, emphasizing among other lyrics, “You turn me on”. A veritable communal experience it was for all, and Hexum appealed to the determined audience’s vibe. Oddly, “Jackpot”, from Uplifter (2009), was another knockout. It sounded totally different, as if it had been re-worked or perfected: it was probably the heaviest song played.
Nonetheless, some of the rarely-played songs certainly were highpoints, such as “8:16 a.m.” from Grassroots (1994) but also the 311-era, THC-friendly outtake “Who’s Got the Herb?”. At this point a loyal fan a few feet away quickly lit up a reefer in tribute. The band played “My Stoney Baby” in Wichita. Sure, the “happy slam dance song” “Do You Right” and also “Nutsymtom”, both louder, hardcore Grassroots tracks, garnered much attention, and they were played well too.
Hexum’s antics weren’t unwarranted; he paraded all about the place, held his guitar toward the sky, and at multiple times raised his arms in the air on a platform; rapper SA Martinez roamed about as well and convincingly sung. The rhythm section was credible as well, especially drummer Chad Sexton’s brief, minimalistic solo. P-Nut’s bass solo too was effectual. Also, the song “Amber” was riveting. New song “Sunset in July” also was decent; it invoked Jason Mraz’s lazy, beachside manner as well as Sugar Ray’s Tiki Bar hit “Fly”. “Time Bomb” was a bit problematic; it seemed like a 311 genre-hybrid gone astray. An overall outstanding show.