*Photo of 311 on stage at Red Rocks taken by the Rock Chick
While I like to think I’m an expert about certain parts of the rock n roll universe I’ll be the first to admit, I’m no expert on rock-reggae-rap band 311. Frankly, I always thought of them as simply “stoner” rock but I think that oversimplifies this immensely talented band. I was delighted to have the opportunity to see them Saturday night at Red Rocks with opener Iya Terra and special guest Iration.
It hits me every now and then that Life is such a great trip. It really is a journey, or if you will, an evolution. I’ve been a “flat-lander” living in the Midwest most of my life. As luck would have it in the old days I had a number of friends that ended up in Denver, “the Mile High City.” As a young man I’d go out to the mountains and we’d party like escaped criminals. The only reason I’d go out there would be to see friends and do some serious mind erasure. But then I met the Rock Chick. Our daughter ended up in Denver and now when I travel out there its all about family. Those trips out there could not be more radically different. I will admit, occasionally I step off the plane in that high altitude and my body has an instinctual desire to run to a cab, start drinking whiskey direct from the bottle and head to LoDo to find the first open bar stool. But that feeling quickly passes… well, it passes eventually. I’m not saying I don’t sometimes see friends, but for me it’s all about hanging with family. I have evolved and my trips out West have similarly evolved. Different times, different kind of trip.
It’s sort of the same story about 311 for me. One of the great things about being married to the Rock Chick is that she has turned me onto a world of great music. When I was in high school and college I had my gang of miscreants that I hung out with who would turn me onto music. You tend to listen to what your gang is listening to… After college, when “wedding bells broke up that ol’ gang of mine,” I found myself pretty much on my own to discover new music. I was lucky enough to meet a woman who I refer to in these pages as the Rock Chick who came home one day and cranked up an album called From Chaos. It was a wild goulash of different sounds – rock n’ roll bordering on metal with big guitar, a reggae undercurrent and some elements of rap. “Who, pray tell, is this?” I hadn’t heard anything like what was coming from the speakers. It was 311: Nick Hexum, lead vocals/guitar; SA Martinez, vocals/turntables; P Nut (aka Aaron Willis), bass; Chad Sexton, drums; and finally, Tim Mahoney lead/rhythm guitar. She had borrowed their CD from a friend at work, Emma (name changed to protect the innocent). I liked it but figured it was some one-off thing for the Rock Chick and didn’t focus too intensely. I tended to get stuck in my lane in those early days. Before I knew it, we’d seen them at the River Market here in KC on the “Summer Unity Tour” with Ziggy Marley! We saw them again a few years ago, in 2017, at a place in the Crossroads, Grinders. Both were phenomenal nights of music.
Neither of those shows prepared me for 311 at Red Rocks. I feel like this band was made for that amphitheater. I think Red Rocks seats like 10,000 people and it was full… so it was a much bigger crowd than I thought it’d be. Apparently this was the 15th time 311 had played the venerable theater. Red Rocks is a special place for a lot of people and I’m no exception. My first show there was Pearl Jam on their Vitalogy tour, one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. I also have a vague memory of seeing ZZ Top there at some point. And, of course, the Rock Chick and I went out there to see Oasis (with Jet opening) when lead singer Liam Gallagher famously mocked my air guitar playing… I have, with considerable difficulty, stopped doing that… especially when I’m in the front row where the band can see me. Saturday night was a beautiful night in the Denver and the Rock Chick, my daughter and her main squeeze and I loaded up and headed into the foothills. What a great fan base 311 has. The line to the merch table was longer than it was to get in there. I saw so many professional sports jerseys – NFL, NHL, Major League Baseball – that people had on with the number “311.” Each jersey had a different name, typically the title of a song. The guy to my left had on a Vikings’ jersey, number 311 and the name “Come Original,” one of their great, early tracks. Now that’s some real fandom. The crowd was one big, groovy, laid back party. I had the feeling I was the only person not high out there…
The evening started with Iya Terra who played reggae with some heavy metal-ish guitar solos. They were good but they were white guys from California who were pretending to be Rastas from Jamaica which made me kinda chuckle. Still, I really enjoyed their music. The second band was similar in style… reggae with some great guitar solo’ing, almost a reggae hard rock blend, Iration. I was impressed with those guys. They all looked like guys you’d find at your local brew pub drinking craft beers. I have to admit, I could see Iration making it big. Maybe they already are… I’m not sure.
311 burst onto the stage and I mean burst – this is an energetic band. Nick Hexum was dressed in light blue pants and a white jacket… he looked like he was coming off the back nine after shooting several under par. I have to admit, the guy is so fit and good looking I began to wonder if that was why the Rock Chick became a fan. The light show was out of this world. They opened with two rockers, “Transistor” and the aforementioned “Come Original,” a personal favorite. A song I wasn’t familiar with, “My Stoney Baby” was a nice laid back reggae thing early in the set. I really liked that song. SA was all over the stage… the man is constantly moving and dancing and rapping. There were so many great tunes – “All Mixed Up,” “Creatures (For A While)” and my favorite of their mellower tunes, “Amber” – that all got great readings. “Amber” really is “the color of your energy.” The lead guitarist, Tim Mahoney was conjuring bizarre, beautiful notes from his guitar all night but I really dug his work on “What The?!” Midway through the first set P Nut played an epic bass solo. That’s typically when I’m headed to the beer line but the guy kept me captivated… well, that and the great light show.
When these guys rock, they rock hard. It’s loud, in your face, Red Hot Chili Peppers kinda funky hard rock. I’m probably showing my age but I dig it when they get a little mellower. The beginning of “Get Down” was a great ballad-y thing but then it kicked in and rocked…great tune. I love the guitar on “Beautiful Disaster,” yet another highlight. They rocked out on a few more tunes, maniacally racing around the stage until they finally played a more laid back, reggae thing, “Beyond the Gray Sky” that was my absolute favorite track of the night. “Creatures (For A While)” and “Livin’ And Rockin'” jammed out to end the main set. The encore was a short and sweet, just two tracks, “There’s Always an Excuse” another pretty midtempo thing that built into a soaring guitar solo. “Down” was the perfect hard rock way to end the night…SA was still bouncing all around the stage.
The lights came on and I couldn’t help but think… man that was an amazing night of music courtesy of 311. If you get a chance to catch these guys on this tour, I highly recommend it. I’m not a deep 311 expert but I knew enough of the music they played to elevate the experience. Most people have probably heard more of them than I have and I loved it! Any time you have an opportunity to listen to live music – and keep yourself safe doing it – I always suggest buying the ticket. There’s nothing more uplifting and communal to the verge of spiritual than sharing an evening of music with friends and especially family.