It felt like a shot of good Karma when free concert tickets floated my way earlier this summer. I wasn’t going to be able to splurge on any of the shows I wanted to see, and this was a good set-up: Two tickets to the show of my choice at the Scion Festival Stage in Hartford, Conn.
A quick scan of the choices revealed a few runners-up and a clear winner. 311 was playing in August, and that was the show we were going to see. Decided. Done.
311 was huge when I was in college, and everyone I associated with loved the band as much as I did. They’re sort of indescribable; alternative reggae-rock-hip-hop, maybe. Today, that’s mixed with a good dose of 30-something nostalgia, and there’s something to be said for that. When I was 18 and 311’s iconic album by the same name dropped (it was actually the band’s sixth release), the lyrics I identified with most were of the “Many moons since first we did the do” milieu. That’s still a good line, but today I’m more aware of some of the band’s deeper thoughts.
“When the lightning flashes sweet electricity
all the world then stands revealed with the clarity.”
I’ve kept tabs on 311 albums ever since and contend that their earlier recordings have stood the test of time — they haven’t lost their edge, but they do seem even more introspective than ever. Ben thinks these days the band is doing a lot of yoga. I wouldn’t be surprised … they all look and, more importantly, sound exactly the same as they always have.
Our ticket package included passes to the ‘VIP Tent,’ which ended up being a blast. We had the tent almost entirely to ourselves except for a few uber-fan dudes who came in later, and they only made the night more fun. One of the crew knew every lyric of every song, and fueled by a few of the venue’s 22-ounce beers, punctuated each word with a different hand gesture. Jazz Hands! Pointing! Fist Pump! Sometimes, he threw in a leg or a head-swivel, for good measure.
We also had waitress service and were able to mingle and dance on a raised platform for ‘VIPs’ only — this combination probably spoiled me on any lesser concert experience in the future. Not only did I have a measured stream of beverages and soft pretzels at my disposal, I was also separated from the hoards of people in the main crowd. It’s not that I’m elitist … it’s just so nice to watch a concert without having an unknown substance poured on your back as you lean down to pry your left big toe out from under the guy in front of you.
The show started with Slightly Stoopid, the opening act with a similar reggae vibe to 311 and touches of Reel Big Fish, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Sublime. Props to the horn players who strode on stage wearing an array of Celtics garb. The band also did a great cover of Leaving on a Jet Plane.
The next hour and a half was filled with a veritable retrospective of 311’s work, from the head-bobbing tunes we loved in the mid-90s to their more zen stuff, including Amber and Give Me a Call.
“don’t give up your independence
unless it feels so right
nothing good comes easily
sometimes you’ve got to fight“
Tunes like Jackpot and Sunset in July also prove that the 311 Evolution hasn’t been one from hard to soft, though. There’s still a sharp edge to the band that anyone who’s had it up to their eyeballs with sensitive-guy-in-a-hat music will appreciate. Lyric-heavy songs don’t always need to be crooned.
“search for something
To compare you to
Thought long and hard
For a simile true”
In the midst of work stresses, bills, and loads of laundry, Monday’s concert was a welcome break and a chance to feel a little bit throwback and a little bit right on track at the same time. One of my favorite bands from the nineties is still writing, recording, and touring, so that’s comforting. And even if the song in my head is one they wrote 20 years ago, the words still have meaning.
“Sometimes jacks will rule the realm
Sometimes jealousy will dwell
You can’t begin to dispel
When you cannot even tell“