The 311 Nation convened in Las Vegas last week for the band’s concert/fan convention extravaganza known as 311 Day. On Thursday (March 11th, duh) the band played a sprawling five-hour, 60-song show at the Mandalay Bay Events Center that left everyone sweaty, tired and pretty damn satisfied.
This was my third 311 Day, having traveled to New Orleans in 2004 and Memphis in 2006 (The band holds these huge events every other year).
I’m a self-admitted diehard fan of the band, having attended an innumerable number of shows over the years, in many different states, including California, Nevada, Tennessee, Louisiana and New York.
311, comprised of Nick Hexum (vocals/ rhythm guitar), SA Martinez (vocals/ DJ scratches), P-Nut (bass), Tim Mahoney (lead guitar), and Chad Sexton (drums) treats these concerts as big fan appreciation blowouts, playing hits, rarities, and obscure b-sides spanning their extensive back catalog as a way to say thanks to the fans for being so loyal and continuing to support the band over their more than twenty years of existence.
It’s amazing to me that 311 still manages to thrive in the live arena, as it’s no secret that their mainstream popularity has long since gone by the wayside. Despite that, they consistently tour large venues in the summer and spring to mostly packed houses filled with rabid fans (and the occasional concertgoer who only knows Amber).
The 311 spirit was thriving in Vegas this week, as people from all over the globe met up in the city to celebrate the band and its positive energies. Walking around the Strip it was evident that we were taking over the entire damn city.
Arriving at the Mandalay Bay Events Center around four in the afternoon on Thursday only heightened the excitement. Fans clad in t-shirts, hats, and other garb routinely sparked up “3 11! 3, 3, 11!” chants that got the energy flowing and put everyone in a full-on frenzy.
By the time the show actually started, we were all so pumped up that our noise was deafening. 311 utilized a ridiculously awesome stage set up for the show, with a big spiral beehive-looking thing that rose when the house lights dimmed, revealing the band, who launched into the song Jackpot (off of 2009’s Uplifter), a fitting song to start out the show. Sexton’s drum kit was on a rotating platform, so he spun around in circles the whole night, allowing fans behind the stage to get a good view every now and then.
Over the course of the next five hours, the band played songs from all corners of their repertoire, including hits (All Mixed Up, Come Original, Beautiful Disaster, Amber, etc.) and obscure or infrequently-played gems (Brodels, Loco, Uncalm, Running, Livin’ & Rockin’, Six, and Slinky), as well as premiering a few songs that had not been played live previously (Sun Comes Through, Get Down, Two Drops in the Ocean). It was really an impressive set list, spread out across five sets, interspersed with some Vegas entertainment like a contortionist playing with big plastic hoops and a Jamaican dance troupe tearing it up on the floor.
P-Nut (Aaron Wills) enjoyed an indulgent bass solo before the band went into Nutsymtom. During the solo we all expressed our love for the Nut and his bass wizardry. He’s often the most expressive and active member of the band, onstage and off (He’s the one with a personal Facebook page where he interacts with fans). The solo, carried out on his Warwick with the light-up fret board, showed just how skilled he is, while not getting boring (as bass solos sometimes get). Simply put, P-Nut crushes.
During Applied Science, Sexton had an extended drum solo where he smashed and pounded his Pearl kit for about ten minutes or so.
At that point I was such an exhausted zombie that the solo sounded endless, but it was still impressive. The other members of the band eventually rose out of the stage on risers and began the full-band drum solo that always takes place midway through the song. It was a new solo and a pretty slick stage set up for that segment of the show.
Playing sixty songs in an evening must be quite an ordeal for a band, especially one whose members are mostly in their mid-thirties. The fact that the band does this really shows how much they care about the fan base, as this is really one big amazing party, with the band feeding off of the crowd’s electric energy and reciprocating onstage.
The sound was a bit muffled in the Mandalay Bay Events Center at the beginning of the show, as the vocals and guitar echoed around the cavernous arena, but it was eventually remedied a bit, and while it was never perfectly crisp, it was as good as could be expected in such a venue. 311 usually has a pitch-perfect live sound so it was probably the venue that caused any issues this time around.
311, for some reason, seems to be a band that does not really get the credit they deserve. Too many times, as a fan, I’ve witnessed people criticize the band or hate on them for no reason. As someone in the band’s inner circle of dedicated fans I find this hard to understand, since the band’s positive message (“stay positive, love your life” is what Hexum says at the end of every show) and uplifting music set them apart from their peers and have allowed them to continue on well past the heyday of the rap/rock/reggae stuff that they effectively pioneered in the early 1990s. Yes, the lyrics may tend to be somewhat cheesy (as some people say) and perhaps the band’s creative peak has passed them by, but the fact that they’re still doing their thing and remaining true to themselves while retaining a hardcore fan base that travels all over the country to see them in concert says something. No other bands that I can think of put on an event anything like 311 Day, a show that is truly a way for the band to acknowledge and thank the fans for all their years of support.
Hexum, Martinez, Mahoney, Sexton and Wills (P-Nut) kicked everyone’s asses at this show, even busting out a song (Slinky) that they had not played in SEVENTEEN YEARS. It has always been a favorite of the hardcore fans, so to see them play it after basically ignoring it forever was another sign of appreciation. They love the fans, and it was more than evident at the show.
By the time the last notes of Unity echoed around the arena and we had to leave the venue, there was a palpable sense of satisfaction all around. Sixty songs and five hours after the show began, we in “311 Nation” screamed and cheered despite throbbing feet and hoarse voices, showing appreciation for the band and their amazing performance. P-Nut followed suit, hopping off the stage and greeting the fans in the pit for about five minutes after the house lights came back on. He rules.
I’m already counting down the days until 311 Day 2012.
Here’s the entire set list from the show, so you can get an idea of just how many songs they played:
Intro > 1. Jackpot 2. Sick Tight 3. Plain 4. Beautiful Disaster 5. Hydroponic 6. Flowing 7. Still Dreaming 8. Loco 9. Uncalm 10. Mix It Up 11. Purpose 12. From Chaos 13. Running 14. Solar Flare 15. Taiyed 16. Sun Come Through (Setlist debut) 17. What Was I Thinking? 18. Livin' & Rockin' SET II: 19. All Mixed Up 20. India Ink 21. My Stoney Baby 22. Come Orginal 23. Silver 24. Don't Tread On Me 25. Beyond the Gray Sky 26. You Wouldn't Believe Extended P-Nut Bass Solo 27. Nutsymtom 28. Brodels 29. Creatures (For a While)
SET III: Welcome Intro >
30. 1, 2, 3 31. Rub a Dub 32. Color 33. Light Years 34. Who's Got the Herb
SET IV: 35. Let the Cards Fall 36. Crack the Code 37. Two Drops in the Ocean (Setlist debut) 38. Random 39. Nix Hex 40. Feels So Good 41. Golden Sunlight 42. Six (Last played 8/15/07) 43. Do You Right / Don't Stay Home / Hive - Mash-Up 44. Omaha Stylee SET V:
46. Off Beat Bare Ass 47. Amber 48. Daisy Cutter 49. Use of Time 50. Get Down (Setlist debut) 51. Applied Science 52. 8:16 AM 53. Visit 54. Sever 55. Freeze Time 56. It's Getting OK Now 57. There's Always an Excuse
58. Slinky (Last played 10/10/93) 59. Fuck the Bullshit