311 and The Offspring, two punk-oriented bands, brought their Unity Tour into Capitol Federal Park at Sandstone. A stormy afternoon evolved into a decent and exceptional evening for both bands with respect to performance. It’s a safe bet that 311 fans are typically Offspring fans, and vice versa. It was a good strategy, then, in an inordinately dismal and hideous touring summer, and amidst a recession; a time when artists like U2, Simon and Garfunkel, Limp Bizkit, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, and Sarah McLachlan decide not to tour or to cancel dates.
Although both bands’ musical styles are, broadly considered, similar (e.g., both cite The Clash as a notable influence), and both had major hits in the 1990s – 311 with “Down” and “All Mixed Up”, and The Offspring with “Come Out and Play” and “Self Esteem”—the audience turnout at this gig was an utter farce indeed, and the obvious PR strategy failed miserably; the lawn area at Sandstone was totally vacant.
311 played at this venue in the late 1990s, supporting its “Blue Album”, and back then 311 filled nearly every seat, walkway, privy, and patch of grass in the place. The band’s show tonight only packed about half of the large, outdoor venue; approximately some 7,000 odd fans attended. Sets by 311 and The Offspring were, on the whole, unmistakably successful, but unfortunately not enough people were present to actually appreciate these established acts and relish the summertime holiday. Not good.
The Offspring opened, supporting Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace(2008). The Huntington Beach pop-punk band played a set that covered ground from its more recent albums; four songs were from the band’s breakthrough, Smash (1994): “Come Out and Play”, “Bad Habit”, “Self Esteem”, and “Gotta Get Away”. Three of these guitar-driven, louder songs were successful and encouraged a fair bit of crowd surfing and moshing. Fans were festive but not fanatic; a woman flashed her chest to Dexter Holland, but he didn’t acknowledge it. New songs “Hammerhead” and show opener “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid” were well-performed but not as stimulating and hard-hitting as the band’s earlier hits.
Guitarist Noodles played with great precision and vitality, as per usual; as he smoked offstage during a break, he appeared eager to get back in front of the crowd. Nonetheless, his PR skills could use some fine tuning. He told the audience that 311 would be up soon, and that The Offspring’s set would imminently conclude. Fans knew that 311 would be playing after them, so broadcasting that you’re almost done isn’t too judicious and Noodles’ statement sounded subtly resentful.
The second song of Offspring’s set, “Bad Habit”, was entirely problematic. Its slow, bass-reliant beginning does not work well live; the larger problem was that fans simply weren’t having it. It seemed few knew about it or had heard it. When lead singer Holland asked the crowd to sing the lyrics at a critical point, it was tantamount to getting your cat prepared for a bath, and it was a true chore. A band like Fuel nowadays can get the crowd to sing without drastic methods. “Bad Habit” thus was a sad disappointment live. The piano version of “Gone Away” turned many fans off as well.
Curiously, it was two songs from Americana (1998) that truly affected and impressed the mysterious mood of the audience. The comical songs “Why Don’t You Get a Job?” and “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” were indisputable standouts. The Americana tour it was not, but for some reason these songs had considerable resonance; after more than a decade their cultural humor, mixed with a keen sense of pop melody, still carries weight.
Holland brought his witty, schoolboy observations to the crowd. “Why Don’t You Get a Job?” is cute and laughable in this manner, but its singsong sonic nature stems from “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” off The Beatles’ White album. These two aspects nicely characterize The Offspring’s hallmark sense of lyrical play and clever, musical indebtedness. The band also covered The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton” which went over pretty well.
311 played an absolutely unrelenting set comprised of twenty-two songs. The reggae-rap-rock band is supporting Uplifter (2009), but mercifully only four songs came from that pedestrian LP: “Mix it Up”, “India Ink”, “Hey You”, and “Jackpot”. At last summer’s near-disastrous Kansas City gig the band played an embarrassing nine Uplifter songs and neglected to perform several of the big hits. Few songs were played from Grassroots and Music.
Last summer’s “Hey You” didn’t work and sounded too generic and poppy. Tonight the song had genuine potency to it. Tim Mahoney’s guitar bit sounded tighter and more compelling, and singer Nick Hexum’s passion was evident. “India Ink” is becoming quite reliable live, but probably “Never Ending Summer” should have been played in its place. Or, maybe the nostalgic, holiday-friendly “Homebrew”. “Never Ending Summer” successfully opened last summer’s Kansas City date; it nicely exemplified the band’s musical intensity and trademark optimism.
Largely, 311 made amends for last year’s show by playing three fairly rare live songs: “Taiyed”, “Brodels”, and Soundsystem’s closer, “Livin’ & Rockin’”. It was something else to witness the band’s rendition of the machismo-laden songs “Brodels”, from the Blue Album, and “Livin’ & Rockin’”. It’s been a long time since singer Hexum firmly rapped “Well I’m 6 foot 3 and like Mohammed Ali / I float like a butterfly and sting like poison ivy / Drive a 69 Lincoln suicide doors,” as he did during “Brodels”. This was an exquisite diamond; the band must play other songs in this vein more frequently. “Taiyed”, from Grassroots, underscored SA Martinez’s vocal flow, not to mention Mahoney’s funky guitar playing. Certified hits like “Down” and “Beautiful Disaster” were performed well too. Both Hexum and Martinez danced about the stage, and at times, lead singer Hexum stood up on a center platform; also, the gig entertained the crowd when Hexum and Mahoney played guitar next to one another. And SA Martinez was atypically talkative, especially during the latter part of the show. But 311 simply needed to play more critical and relevant songs, such as “Freak Out”, “Omaha Stylee”, “Lucky”, “Homebrew”, “Jackolantern’s Weather”, “Plain”, and “Who’s Got the Herb?” The band played several of these songs at its Fall 2009 stop in Grand Prairie, Texas; the funk-rock song “Plain” was the best played song at that show, and Hexum was most certainly more energetic and enthusiastic as well, dancing in every which way possible.
Overall, both bands proved that they can put on a respectable show during a weak economy and despite having most of their major hits in the 1990s. Both have a devoted and forgiving fan base. However, 311 in particular must cut the weaker songs from its set list. When is “Guns (Are For Pussies)” going to get played live? And what happened to “My Stoney Baby”, “Nix Hex” and “8:16 AM”? Someday.