311 rocks mightily, even as the vocals fall flat

Concert review

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By Scott Mervis

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

311 frontman Nick Hexum told the crowd that the Unity Tour was all about positivity and "bringing people together," and that was certainly the party vibe Tuesday night at Stage AE.

Likewise, there are, in fact, a lot of positive things to say about 311. For starters, they seem like really nice guys, and back in the '90s the Omaha band rejected the dreariness and aggression of grunge and nu metal for something more playful and upbeat.

Beyond that, the core unit is beastly -- a power trio that can turn on a dime, and quickly shift gears from reggae to funk to metal. They could probably stand toe to toe with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, no problem.

To go with the high energy, 311 adopts the jam band ethic of varying the set list every night so the show stays fresh and unpredictable.

Now for some negativity. Where the Omaha band either wins or loses people is with what goes on in the vocal/song department.

In his white tank top, Mr. Hexum looked like a GQ model, but, sorry to say, he's one of the flattest-sounding lead singers I think I've ever heard. He sings, he raps, he toasts and delivers his rock/reggae/funk mashup with almost no variation of the notes. 311 offsets that by unleashing Doug "SA" Martinez, who bursts out now and then like he's had too many Red Bulls to deliver his grating, high-pitched raps.

It's an acquired taste that the adoring fans clearly picked up along the way. While 311 has barely made a dent in the mainstream, it's had a solid, nearly two-decade run on the alternative charts with favorites like "All Mixed Up," "Come Original" and "Down," which were all delivered with bounding energy.

To extend the jam-band comparison, mixed between were songs like "Beyond the Gray Sky," which sounded like metallic Grateful Dead, showcasing the fluid chops of guitarist Tim Mahoney. "Applied Science" came with a full band drum circle at center stage, and Aaron "P-Nut" Wills wedged a smooth jazz bass solo between "Don't Stay Home" and "Beautiful Disaster."

The latter-day material was as well received as the old stuff, as the band spiced the set with rap-metal rocker "Jackpot" and the crunchy reggae of "Sunset in July." All told, there are lots of reasons to like 311 -- and just as many to run the other way.

From the name Slightly Stoopid, you might expect a goofy young pop-punk band. Instead, the San Diego group that opened finds its inspiration in Jamaican reggae and ska. It sounded like good background music for a beach party, but the Marleys don't have much to fear from this crew.

Also on the bill were Warped Tour vets Aggrolites, who got the party started with some soulful dirty reggae, LA style.

311 set list

"Strong All Along"
"My Stoney Baby"
"All Mixed Up"
"Wild Nights"
"Beyond the Gray Sky"
"Come Original"
"Applied Science"
"Sunset in July"
"Don't Stay Home"
"Beautiful Disaster"

"Omaha Stylee"
"Creatures (For a While"



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