311 shows strength with stripped-down Sandia concert
When funk/reggae/rock band 311 hit the stage at Sandia Amphitheater on Thursday, June 26, to begin their 36-date summer tour, they gave their New Mexican fans something a little different.
311 has been around for 26 years, forming in Omaha, Neb., before moving to Los Angeles, where the band was signed to its first major label record contract. In that time, they’ve quietly become one of the best live acts in American music.
Quietly, compared to folks like Taylor Swift, anyway.
311 is like a 21st century Grateful Dead in some respects. The band puts out new albums now and then (their newest disc, “Sterolithic,” the band’s first new album since 2011, came out recently on the band’s own 311 Records) but mostly they’re known for their raucous live shows, which include some of the best production values this side of Pink Floyd.
But 311’s show at Sandia Amphitheater to kick off the Stereolithic tour, which was also a fundraiser for the non-profit Goodwill Industries of New Mexico, was a stripped-down, low-tech affair compared to the group’s usual concerts. And that was a good thing.
The band went on stage at sundown with just a couple of dozen computer-controlled stage lights and more than 10 old-school chrome can stage lights in place of the usual light and backdrop heavy spectacle the band offers up to concert-goers.
No, 311’s Albuquerque show was all about the music. And the 6,000 or so 311 fans who showed up loved it.
What the Albuquerque audience got instead of a big production was a nearly two-hour long, 21-song set that showcased one of American music’s tightest live bands. And that was more than enough.
Most “live” pop acts out touring today use backing tracks and rarely even have their own voices going through the PA system, preferring to lip sync — and that’s even status quo with many live rock bands these days.
311, by contrast, play just about every note and do it well. You’ll have to go far out of your way to find a tighter, slicker rhythm section than bassist Aaron “P-Nut” Willis and drummer Chad Sexton. Add in guitarist Tim Mahoney and occasional rhythm guitar from lead vocalist Nick Hexum and you have one tight ensemble.
And the live vocals of vocalists Hexum and Doug “SA” Martinez were crisp and clear above the great mix at Sandia.
Starting of with their hit “Come Original,” the band showed energy and verve from the get-go and ran through the first third of the set, which included muscular new songs “Revelation of the Year” and ska-flavored “Showdown” along with “My Stoney Baby,” from the band’s 1993 debut “Music” and radio hit “All Mixed Up.”
The band touched on just about every part of their remarkable career throughout the set, including fan faves “Freak Out,” “Champagne” and “Jackpot.”
And those fans ate it up, filling the small space in front of the stage and the aisles and dancing and pogo-ing along for most of the two-hour set.
And, surprisingly, this gang of 311 enthusiasts experienced the band directly. Only a handful stood recording the concert with their smart phones, preferring to dance and sing along.
By the time the band hit the mid point with “Applied Science,” which gave drummer Sexton a spotlight with a drum solo before the band took to a drumline-like set up at center stage and went into a crowd-pleasing routine.
P-Nut’s bass solo showed similar virtuosity, wrapping up with “Star Wars’” “Imperial March” to the delight of the audience.
By the time the band finished its main set with “Creatures (For a While),” the audience was hardly ready to leave, even after dancing and singing along for more than an hour.
The encore included the group’s new single, the lively “Five of Everything,” and the band’s breakthrough radio hit “Down,” giving the crowd one last blast of energy to bounce to before heading out of the gates.
All in all, 311 showed themselves to be as on top of their game and proved that while the band often gives its fans an in-concert spectacle, 311 can dazzle with its music alone.