“This song goes out to all the old school 311 fans,” frontman Nick Hexum told the Boston crowd before exploding into the “Down.” It was within the three minutes that followed where I was once again reminded how powerful a 311 concert is.
During “Down” – the 21st song of the night – something very special unfolded. In fact, it’s something that happens at every 311 show: the seat numbers and rows of the Blue Hills Pavilion became irrelevant. Each fan in attendance erupted into a euphoric dance party. People were dancing in the aisles, linking arm in arm, jumping up and down and singing at the top of their lungs with the band who – feeding off the crowd – were doing the exact same thing.
I witnessed the venue security staff smiling from ear to ear and simply admiring the swarms of an excitable crew dancing in the aisles. They knew there was no need to push people back to their seats. This was pure enjoyment; a celebratory moment for all to be uninhibited creatures for a while.
Yes, in theory, it is something that happens at many concerts. But at a 311 show, it’s a little different: some fans worship a band for their lyrics, some for their sentiment and others for the emotion evoked from their songs. For the diehard 311 fan, there is nothing stronger than witnessing their live show.
It was during this moment of “Down” where I apologetically took my eyes off the stage and observed the unity around me. It struck me – this is one of the greatest rock bands one will see in concert. In part, because of moments like this, but additionally, it’s the little things that make a 311 show a one-of-a-kind – experience.
Every 311 concert is a unique setlist crafted that night, for that night specifically. There is a rush coupled with anxiety that builds up prior to their first note. I wonder what they are going to play tonight. What will the opener be? With close to 200 songs to select from, 311 put a lot of thought into crafting their setlist each night. They think about the dynamics of the city they are in, the atmosphere and the overall vibe. It’s a big reason why you should go to multiple shows on any given leg and typically end up saying each one was the best you’ve ever been to.
Sense of Self
See the song “Never Ending Summer.” 311 know their strengths; 2016 marks their 18th consecutive summer headlining a U.S. tour (1998 is the only summer the band has not toured). For the past 11 years, they have headlined amphitheaters across the U.S. with their summer “Unity Tour.” The shows and the music pair perfectly with a summer vibe in an outdoor setting.
They also host a bi-annual 311 Day show and a Caribbean Cruise that has gone to Turks & Caicos, Bahamas & Jamaica. Both are attended by thousands of 311 fans from around the world.
The drum interlude during “Applied Science” will always be one of the more mesmerizing moments of a 311 show. The band has reworked the arrangement over the years, providing fresh drumlines each summer. It further showcases how each member of the group is so well-versed in music. This mid-set change of pace is worth the price of admission alone.
Sincerity and Appreciation
For both the music and the opportunity to take the stage each night.
You can tell a lot about a person by their eyes. Thus, sincerity can be translated through the eyes of the performer while onstage. Each member of 311 exudes gratitude for the moment they are in while performing; they never phone it in. There’s something special to take away when you see how necessary the music is for the artist. The experience ends up meaning more to you when you see how much it means to them as well.
311 is a grassroots band that built their legacy by rolling up their sleeves and doing things their way, making the reward that much sweeter.
“If I ever didn’t thank you, then just let me do it now.”
“Unity” is an ever-present theme in the 311 universe. It’s something you graciously and sometimes subconsciously subscribe to upon holding that ticket in your hand. You are about to be submersed in an atmosphere of like-minded people whose one goal is to have an outwardly good time. The 311 hive is amassed of fans who share an energy with the five members of the band. This energy is always electric.
During “Amber” my buddy turned to me and said, “It’s really pretty special that this is still all five original members of the band.” After 26 years, that too is appreciated. As a fan, it adds another element of feeling happy and proud. The next thing I heard after my buddies comment was the lyric, “nothing good comes easily, sometimes you’ve got to fight.” Appropriate.
In August of 1995, I was crunched in the back seat of a red Ford Probe one afternoon, driving down route 6A on Cape Cod. Suddenly, my older cousin turned to me and said, “You’ve got to hear this.” I did not recognize the fireball CD he was inserting into the stereo. Suddenly, I heard the opening riff to “Down” from 311’s just-released third record, and immediately I thought – Wow, what in the world is this? Little did I know the door those four seconds opened would lead to a live music world unlike anything else.
The right music can make you forget or remember everything. Somehow at a 311 gig, you do both.
For tour dates visit 311.com/shows
All photos by Jeff Gorra except where noted
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edited by Dave Maxwell Beefcake