Omaha alt-rockers 311 kicked off their Unity Tour 2017 last night (June 22) at Hard Rock Live in Northfield (Cleveland), Ohio with a sprawling, vigorous set that drew from all points in their quarter-century career.
“We have some new songs to play for you!” greeted singer/guitarist Nick Hexum.
Said selections (there were five or six of ‘em) hail from the band’s twelfth studio effort, Mosaic, which not-so-coincidentally drops today. Indeed, Hexum and the gang got the party started with spritely new “Perfect Mistake” before winding back the clock with “Hive” (from 1995’s 311), “Come Original” (from 1999’s Soundsystem), “Gap” (from 1996 EP Enlarged to Show Detail), and “Homebrew” (from 1994’s Grassroots).
A lot has changed (and the-eh-ehn some, some) for these Nebraska knuckleheads since their formation and relocation to L.A. in the early ‘90s. They’ve amassed a number of platinum and gold records (and a slew of hit singles) under their collective belt and cultivated a huge—and fiercely devoted—following by taking every festival gig and team-up tour that came their way in the late ‘90s and ‘00s. The guys are older, wiser, and more mature. Some of ‘em are family men.
Consequently, 311 are better poised to crank out their genre-juggling mix of metal, rock, reggae and rap and contribute their favorite causes…whilst hawking their signature brews and sativa vapor strains.
Oh, and they do cruises, too: Hexum dedicated balmy, bouncy Mosaic track “Island Sun” to those who’ve ever set sail with 311.
Hexum—in khakis and white windbreaker—strummed guitar early on but ditched his Gretsch (and stripped to a black tank top) to prowl the stage with fellow vocalist Doug “S.A.” Martinez, who helped the band dig in on energetic new single “Too Much to Think” and sizzling oldie-but-goody “Silver.” Dancing and head-banging with Hexum whilst splitting emcee duties, Martinez was soon a sweaty mess.
Bassist Aaron “P-Nut” Wills pinned the bottom end with a five-string instrument whose fret markers glowed in the dark. Wills gave his cohorts a chance to collect themselves by embarking on a ten-minute bass solo whereon he depressed foot pedals to record and loop certain passages and then play over them, coloring his notes with wah-wah and distortion.
Ensconced beneath a large LED backdrop, drummer Chad Sexton brutalized his toms, snare, and cymbals on “All Mixed Up,” “Too Late,” and “Beyond Gray Sky.” Lead guitarist Tim Mahoney (in an Angus Young AC/DC shirt) provided crunchy power chords, crisp rhythms, and scorching lead breaks on “Applied Science,” “Amber,” and “Freeze Time,” all of which prompted the near-capacity crowd to pump its fists and pogo-dance in the standing-room pit.
Transistor hit “Beautiful Disaster” was followed by the obligatory (but still potent) 311 anthem “Down,” whose turntable-tinged verses introduced the larger world to the band’s ska-rock and Jamaican patois-painted vocals. Receiving its live debut, “Wildfire” was appropriately incendiary. “Creatures (For a While)” brought the Thursday-evening soiree to a kinetic close.
New Politics opened with a brisk set of punk-pop that pitted David Boyd’s rap-song vocals with Soren Hansen’s gritty guitar lines, piano chords, and mandolin (or was it a ukulele?) strumming on “Fall Into These Arms,” “You’re Perfect,” and “Yeah Yeah Yeah.”
Boyd and Hansen hail from Copenhagen, Denmark, but New Politics percussionist Louis Vecchio is American—and is the group’s not-so-secret weapon. There was no bassist or keyboardist visible on stage, but the mix was contained low, deep pulse sounds and samples, making one wonder how much of the bottom end was live and how much was Memorex…er, computer-triggered. But Vecchio’s stick work was manic, muscular, and visceral.
What New Politics lacked in instrumentation was compensated for with their charisma and athleticism. Boyd stood on his head, walked on his hands, break-danced…and executed a jaw-dropping back flip off Vecchio’s kick bass. Nailed the landing, too.
The guy is clearly not a fan of gravity.
Hansen raked his guitar strings, pounded on the piano keys, and worked up a lather shouting backup to Boyd’s lead on a killer medley that mashed Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” with White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.”
New Politics will issue its next full-length in the fall. A teaser from said record, “One of Us,” went over well with the Northfield crowd.
If the rest of the 2017 summer concert calendar comes off like this electrifying engagement, it's gonna be a good couple months.