Summer in Chicago means two things: it’s three months out of the year when it’s not freezing outside and it’s time for a visit from the boys in 311. Hot on the heels of their 311 day cruise back in March and only a few days before the release of their 10th studio album, Universal Pulse (out 7/19), the Unity tour 2011 pulled into Chicago’s Charter One Pavilion. For the ninth consecutive summer, 311 has hit the road with the summer Unity Tour. This year they were joined by Sublime with Rome, DJ Soulman and DJ Trichrome.

Just after the doors opened, DJ Trichrome took the stage. It was great background music for everyone milling around finding seats, saying hello to old friends or making new ones. 311 shows are a gathering, more reminiscent of a Grateful Dead or more recently, a Phish show. The 311 nation, or as we like to be called, “The Excitable Ones”, really is a family, I’ve never seen fans so quick to stop and talk with complete strangers and embrace them like long time friends. Trichrome definitely helped get the crowd in the right state of mind with his reggae-tinged beats. The vibe was set for the rest of the night.

Next up was DJ Soulman, who mixed some tracks that made me stop mid-stride to make sure I was hearing it correctly. I’ve never heard anyone so seamlessly blend the music of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” with Mike Patton’s vocals from Faith No More’s “Epic.” What? Did he really just do that? Soulman continued to pump up the crowd, getting them worked up for Sublime with Rome and 311.

When Sublime with Rome took the stage, I was immediately blown away. I’ve been a Sublime fan for years but had never seen them live, and to be quite honest, was rather skeptical as to whether his guy Rome was going to be able to fill the shoes of the late Bradley Nowell. They kicked off their set with the hit “Date Rape”, and as soon as Rome opened his mouth, all doubt I may have had quickly dissipated. They went from hit to hit and the crowd loved every second. From “Wrong Way” to “Badfish” to “What I Got”, I was swept back in time and remembered why I had been such a fan years ago. Playing a track or two off of their latest release, Yours Truly, the crowd ate up every note. The energy was infectious and it all culminated with 311 storming the stage.

Nick Hexum and the boys kicked off the evening with their first number one hit “Down”, off the self-titled 1995 release affectionately known as “the blue album”. The capacity crowd at The Charter One Pavilion roared as the energy level reached a new high for the evening. From then on the band plowed through crowd favorite after crowd favorite. Early in the set was their latest single, “Sunset in July”, an ode to the summer concert series and the season’s concert crowds. The first time I heard this track, I immediately thought about the sun setting behind the stage while the band played here in Chicago. I’m pretty sure every fan everywhere pictured it being about their own hometown.

As frontman Nick Hexum said, “’Sunset in July’ is a song about what this band loves doing most: playing live and watching fans dancing in the aisles and having the time of their lives. There’s no bigger inspiration.” As I watched the crowd from the photo pit, I totally connected the lyrics to the experience of going to one of their summer shows. The boys also teased the crowd with other tracks from their upcoming release. The hard hitting “Rock On” and “Wild Nights” were definitely throwbacks to the band’s first albums and somewhat harder rock and rap style. As S.A. Martinez stepped up his duties on the turn table, he also spit lyrics he used to in their earlier releases.

The positive vibe and energy from the stage to the crowd and back never stopped and seemed to grow more and more intense with each song. This concert was filmed for an HDNET special to be aired later this fall and I really hope the power of this live performance was captured. I understand that people might have been turned off by the initial pop hit releases of this band or may have written them off because of the passing fad of mid to late nineties “rap/rock”, but 311’s power as a live group is stronger now as a mature entity than it ever was and really shouldn’t go unnoticed.

The songs are tight and precise and the experience is different from one track to the next but still unified as a whole. There are very few rhythm sections as technically proficient as Chad Sexton on drums and Pnut on bass. Tim Mahoney uses his effects in a way that is seamless and unassuming when necessary and in your face and consuming when appropriate. Regardless of what your preconceived ideas or impressions of 311 may be, they are a force to be reckoned with and their show shouldn’t be missed.

The Unity Tour 2011 continues through August 26th when it wraps up in Seattle. In the beginning of August, the Pow Wow Festival will make its debut in Live Oak, Florida, featuring a four set performance from 311 including 1997’s acclaimed album Transistor in its entirety. 311 will also be joined at their festival by such acts as Ozomotli, the Deftones, Sublime with Rome, the Dirty Heads and many others. –Words and Photos by Dennis McLennand

 
  1. nice article, and awesome photographs!! I wish they were coming to south Florida :(

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  2. Fuck yes. Spoken from a true exciteable one!!! This show was so kickass. A little bit of a greatest hits set list compared to that of other shows recently but the energy was epic!!! If you were in the photo pit did you see my puffy hands?? haha I was lifted up on peoples shoulders to embrace PNUT during his solo and at the end of the show. See you next summer!!!! or 311 Day =D

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    311fan Reply:

    @Mitch_Hex,

    Anyone tell me at what time after the official show start that 311 hit the stage. I’m gonna be late to the show in Omaha that starts at 6:30 with the openers, and I def don’t want to miss 311.

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    Jackie Reply:

    @311fan, The ticket said 6:30 also, and they started just about right at 8. Have a blast!

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