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On Tuesday night, 311’s Unity Tour 2010 took Chicago in grand party-down fashion. With seven shows under their belt supported by various opening acts like ‘90s hit makers Presidents of the United States, the final and proper Unity Tour bill with Pepper and the Offspring took flight at the Charter One Pavilion.

Early in the evening, we left the suburbs and started our commute to the city to guarantee enough time to tailgate with other fans before going into the venue. Still surprised by the lack of support from the local alternative radio station, Q101, we decided to listen in the car during the hour trip. I didn’t really need to hear the same six songs they always play again, but I wanted to listen to the commercials and the DJ for any mention of the show. Since my recent article discussing the importance of the Unity Tour and the viability of 311 on modern-rock radio, the most play 311 has gotten was one song in 24 hours, and other days nil. Further, over the course of the day before the show, Q101 only played one song by the Offspring and nothing by 311 or Pepper. There was, however, a quick mention of the night’s eagerly anticipated festivities on the station’s Twitter page, but nothing on their website.  When the show was finally mentioned on the air, the information relayed to listeners was, (not) shockingly, full of glaring inaccuracies.

As for the dedicated fans we see swarming the parking lot upon our arrival, they truly are a community, a brother/sisterhood, a hive. The rules at shows are different for us. As Jeremy Piven once said during 1994’s PCU, “What is this? You’re wearing the shirt of the band you’re going to see? Don’t be that guy!” Well, at a 311 show, fans wear their band insignia shirts like a badge of honor. It tells the other fans of their 311-inspired travels and fandom. Having a palpable sense of pride in a band is not always cheesy; in cases like this, it’s heartwarmingly genuine.

Show openers Pepper took the stage in all of their Hawaiian glory, dressed as lifeguards in red swim trunks, no shirts and noses covered in zinc oxide. The stage was strewn with surfboards, beach balls and even a lifeguard chair. The Unity Tour marks the trio’s third trek with 311 and this being the first night of the solidified triple bill, the energy was infectious. Flying through song after song with big smiles and a party attitude, it was clear that frontman Kaleo Wassman and gang embraced every second of their opening position. Similar in sound to a racier Sublime crossed with the irreverent stage antics of the Aquabats, Pepper nimbly set the tone for the rest of the evening.

The crowd swelled for The Offspring but it was clear that the majority in attendance were there for 311. Without any warning or introduction, the house music faded and the Offspring took the stage. Sooner than later, it was 1995 all over again. Ever-energetic frontman Dexter Holland stormed around the stage like he owned the place and the crowd ate it up. The set list read like an Offspring greatest hits, leading some diehard fans around us to demand deeper cuts and rarities but the overall consensus was a happy walk down memory lane. The second song up was the 1996 hit “All I Want,” off of 1997’s Ixnay on the Hombre. Smack in the middle of an energy-drenched, thumping Southern Californian punk set all band members but Holland left the stage, leaving the singer at a piano for an ace solo version of 1997’s hit “Gone Away.” As quickly as the vibe went soft, the Huntington Beach-based quartet got a shot of adrenaline and went right back to business. They closed with, in my opinion, their signature song, “Self Esteem.” All things considered, I was pleasantly surprised by the Offspring.

Before the Offspring’s gear had a chance to be carted off the stage, the empty spaces in the general admission floor section quickly filled in. Within 20 minutes the sun was almost completely down, and the house music was, quite serendipitously, playing the greatest hits of Led Zeppelin. As the Zeppelin faded out the familiar 311 vamp beat started, the crowd roared and the show burst into life. Without introduction or warning, frontman Nick Hexum and crew rushed the stage, immediately tearing into megahit single “Down.” Without missing a beat the boys blazed right into “Jackpot,” one of the strongest cuts off of 2009’s Uplifter, whipping the crowd into an early, and sustainable, frenzy.

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311 blazed through 24 songs, (the longest of the Unity Tour thus far) including at times a full-band drum solo, a bass solo, and an alternate ending of the b-side anthem, “Who’s Got the Herb” with ease and vigor. Making up for the shortened set at last year’s well-publicized Kottonmouth Kings debacle? Doubtful. There was no mention of the past and only the normal 311 positive view on the future won out for this epic summer of Unity. At the seven shows prior to and including Chicago, 311 has a core of eight standard songs played at every show, leaving room for 16 slots to fill with old rarities and more recent hits. The energy and vibe never stopped, and out of those 24 songs, the momentum only slowed once for their 2001 hit, “Amber.” Overall this was one of the best and strongest 311 shows I’ve ever seen.

Yeah, I would’ve preferred more crowd interaction and banter between songs, and maybe I would’ve liked to have heard the rarely played “8:16 A.M.” whose opening line, “Stranger flowers yet/There will never come a day that I will ever regret,” is forever emblazoned on my left bicep, but as a longtime fan I was beyond happy with the set and the performance. The energy was consistently remarkable; you get swept up in it, it consumes you and it’s clear that it consumes them too. They give as much as they get.

On an unseasonably cool Tuesday night, on an island in Lake Michigan with the greatest skyline in the world as the backdrop, 311 blew up the night. I’ve been to too many shows in my life to remember them all, and I don’t care if you are a 311 fan or not — if you have the opportunity to see them in concert jump at the chance. The shows are without fail a great time with great people and inspiring music. The crowds are like old friends you haven’t seen in forever and unlike most bands with long careers and acclaim, 311 never lets you down. To distill the sentiment at its most prosaic, 311 lifts you up, and most of us need that light and strength to fall back on now and then. –Dennis McLennand, Photo 1 by Allison Dyer, Photo 2 by Mark Owens

 
  1. nice review! 311 just seems to have a way of getting into your skin when you see them live! So true. Maybe it’s just the positivity, the vibe, the herb…who knows….it just happens. well done! wish I could have been there.

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