It was reggae rock night at Champions Square on Friday with Passafire from Savannah, Georgia opening for the legendary 311 from Omaha, Nebraska. Some patrons came out early for the Savannah quartet, whose last two albums debuted at number one on the Top Reggae Albums Billboard charts. However, the main reason Champ Square was so packed Friday evening was the arrival of 311, who are New Orleans regulars and have just released a new record this year called Mosaic.
311 formed in 1988, while Passafire came together in 2003. However, both have made amazing names for themselves as reggae rockers, fusing the sounds of prog rock and heavy metal with positive vibes and skanking progressions. Passafire put on a great opening act, playing a mixture of tracks through their career, ending with “Leave the Lights On” from their third record Everyone On Everynight. They play well together, each member having a firm grasp on his instrument, or instruments in the case of Mike DeGuzeman who played the keyboards and lead guitar. Toward the end of the set, bassist Will Kubley swapped axes with lead singer Ted Bowne and started wailing on the guitar, side by side with DeGuzeman on the keytar. Their music is truly unique, exploring multiple emotions with a sound that is at times ambient, at times climactic, and all around relaxing.
311 was introduced to the crowd by two MC’s from a local alternative rock radio station. After the audience was hyped, the band came out blasting. For a reggae band, 311 is known for being rather heavily influenced by metal and hip-hop, which makes them something vital to behold and experience. Their first song was “Perfect Mistake” from their new record, which has quite a bit more pop influence than their previous albums, utilizing very triumphant and chant-like choruses. They followed that with an earlier tune, “All Mixed Up,” and continued mixing eras of their music. The band was accompanied by a carpet of LEDs hanging behind them and many colorful lights acting as lasers in the fashion of festival/jam bands.
A most unique element of 311, apart from their fusion style, is the fact that there are technically two frontmen. Nick Hexum plays rhythm guitar and provides the attractive lower lead vocals, while Doug Martinez skips around onstage rapping, harmonizing, and manipulating the turntables. The other members of the band are also insanely gifted, and there was a song in the setlist for each of them to showcase their talent. Tim Mahoney shredded through the concert with tones similar to Jerry Garcia, including a fabulous duel solo between Hexum and himself during “Wildfire.” 311’s heroic bassist, dubbed “Peanut,” has some of the fastest fingers in the industry. He had a solo after the song “Hey Yo,” which he began with fluttering slap bass that would have dropped the jaw of Victor Wooten, then layered into an improvised loop composition that melted faces. A few songs later, drummer Chad Sexton had his turn for the spotlight and busted out an extremely memorable drum jam. It began with Sexton making beats on an electronic pad with his drumsticks, keeping his time with the bass drum. Slowly, the grooves got more and more impressive, finally switching over to the normal drum set, and then 311 surprised the audience by wheeling two standing drum kits comprised of toms and cymbals for each other band member to beat on. This group drum effort sent the crowd into a flurry.
After proving their chops, 311 pressed on playing favorites like “Do You Right” (which they called their “Happy Slam Dance Song”), “Unity”, and an epic, introspective rendition of “Beyond the Gray Sky” which was paired with beautiful visuals of streaming clouds on the monitor and LEDs. The last song of the set was their biggest hit, “Down” from their self-titled third record. When it was clear there needed to be an encore, 311 came back for three more songs: “On a Roll” from their new album, “Freak Out” from their very first album Music (1993), and the crowd mega-favorite “Creatures (For A While)” from Evolver. They thanked the city for welcoming them back as always and concluded a night of substantial hippie stomping and head banging.