The World Has Moved On; 311, Not So Much [Updated]
Photos by Francisco Montes
Bayou Music Center
July 31, 2015
There comes a point in every band's life when it's time to bow out gracefully. And while they don't appear to be aware of it, that time for 311 is now.
Plenty of you may disagree with that assessment, but it's true. Here's the deal. Yes, at some point the music 311 made was interesting and kind of refreshing. But that time was — say it with me — the '90s, my friends. And while this band hasn't been able to make an album worth listening to in more than a decade, they are still touring and playing all the new songs off the newer albums anyway. And they're terrible.
Yes, I mean terrible. When every song you record, and every album you release, sounds just like some bad karaoke ripoff of your own self-titled album, 311 — the one that brought us "Down" and "All Mixed Up" — it's time to stop.
It would almost be all right if 311 were touring as a nostalgia band, playing their old hits and reliving their glory years just for the hell of it, but they're not. They are touring as if they are still a relevant band, playing obscure — and also very bad — songs no one's heard of. Most people (aside from the hardcore fans) would assume a 311 show would be composed of the band's more popular tracks — even that terrible "Amber" song — but alas, they are not.
And here's what happens when a band like 311 plays but nobody knows what the hell they're singing: nothing. Everyone stands around drinking beer and talking shit while front man Nick Hexum waves his mike wildly at the crowd, but no one responds because they're waiting for a song they do know. And let's be fair here. While I don't doubt there are plenty of devoted 311 fans out there, that still does not account for the majority who were at Friday night's show.
Exhibit A: I was in line for beer (which stretched longer than any beer line should stretch, ever) when the band first took the stage well after 9 p.m.. The bro in front of me said to his friend, "Eh, don't rush, man. This ain't even 311. It's the opener."
But a few notes in, it became apparent that no sir, it wasn't Green, the opening band — it was 311. He just didn't know it was 311 because alas, they were opening with
one of their newer songs "Transistor." And that bro wasn't wrong, either. I couldn't tell if it was 311 because like said bro, I'd skipped out on the opener, too. [Note: the instrumental "Transistor" was released in 1997. The Press regrets the error.]
Once they launched into "Beautiful Disaster," though, it was pretty obvious we were listening (but still not watching; thanks, beer line from hell) to 311. And they were bad. Like, very not good. The song, which I admittedly listened to nonstop many moons ago, is just nonsense. Have you guys ever really contemplated the lyrics? "You're a butterfly in the wind without a care, a pretty train crash to me and I can't care, I do I don't whatever." Those are nonsensical lyrics. And they're fine when you're high, but I wasn't.
I also wasn't high enough to encounter what I walked into when I finally did make it out of that beer line. Dude, I get that age takes its toll on all of us, but you know what? It's weird to watch a couple of middle-aged dudes running around the stage doing the Snake, and the jump rope, and the goddamn "wipe that sweat off your brow exaggeratedly" dance moves while white boy rapping into a mike. It is. Sorry, but it is. And that's exactly what Doug "SA" Martinez, the band's resident scat vocalist (can you call it that?), did.
You wanna dance around? Fine. But the jump rope? You're doing the jump rope, and it's not a joke? Like, this isn't supposed to make me laugh as if I'd smoked too much of the crowd's sticky-icky? I mean, I felt like I was being trolled. These two looked and sounded like Hans and Franz up there, singing bad country-speed-surf-reggae to a crowd of fans who came to hear "Down." Where are the rude boys from Omaha, Nebraska? I don't know, but they weren't there in Bayou Music Center. There was nothing rude but those dance moves.
They then launched into "Freeze Time," "Jackpot" and "Prisoner," all back to back, none of which are good songs. I dare you to tell me you know those songs. You don't. You just don't. But I can tell you they're just not very good. Something about those post-Transistor years seems to have rendered everything else flat, and there wasn't much stage banter or chitchat from the group onstage, so all those reggae-surf amalgams start to blend together in the haze of weed smoke and spilled beer. Ultimately, between the flat, boring songs and the monotony of the same style weaving through every single track, the whole thing feels incomprehensible. At least for this casual fan.
There was one highlight, though. You know that bass guitarist, Aaron "P-Nut" Wills? The one who has held the band together all these years? Yeah, he's still a badass. When the rest of the guys took a break from doing the damn worm onstage, P-Nut hopped up there solo and commanded not only our attention but our respect. He did so with a Rage Against the Machine song; no lie. He pulled it off effortlessly, with the crowd of bros yelling, "And now you do what they told ya" in between his expert finger work. I could have watched him all night.
But unfortunately, the rest of the band made their way back to the stage shortly after and continued the strange night with songs like "Time Bomb" and "Applied Science," and broke the spell P-Nut had me under. I waited out the rest of the 21 songs on the set list — 23 if you count the encore — and nothing changed for me. The show still just felt kind of deflated, despite SA's extremely exaggerated dance moves.
And they did play "Down," as the final encore, so the half of the audience who jetted well before the last song didn't even get what they were coming for. The siren's call of those traffic-free parking garage lanes must have been enough to entice them.
What it boils down to is different strokes for different folks, I guess. But this stroke ain't for me. Not live, anyway. I'll still continue to jam out to uh...one of their songs when it comes on the radio and I'm desperate for music, but probably not the rest of them. This was the final nail in that ol' high-school coffin for me. Thanks for going out with a bang — and the snake — you guys.
Personal Bias: So this isn't really a bias, but you guys should know my high-school boyfriend's AOL screen name was "PhatPat311." How you like me now? HE WAS SO COOL.
The Crowd: Unexplainable. It was just indescribable. But I did have two sets of people try to GIVE me tickets to the show while I waited outside for a friend to park. Not sell, you guys. Give. It was a really nice gesture, and I thank you, but I could convince only two other human beings to come with me to a 311 concert, so...
Overheard In the Crowd: "They should have a Celebrity Death Match with 311 and Rage. Tom Morello would rip them limb from limb."
Random Notebook Dump: I asked the bartender (who I came to know quite well during this show) if he liked 311. He did. We talked about gambling instead.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.