Review by Cliff Lummus, Photos by Lucas Armstrong
There are three constants in an ever-changing world that the people of Atlanta can look forward to every summer: sunny skies, Braves baseball, and 311.
Rolling in fresh off a set at the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, 311 changed things up for their Atlanta fans quite a bit for their summer tour.
Over 90 percent of 311’s Atlanta concerts in the past decade have been at Aaron’s Amphitheater at Lakewood. For the 2014 tour, 311 dropped the humid, summer sundown setting of a 19,000 occupancy, sprawling, generic venue sellout for two packed-house back-to-back nights on Thursday and Friday at The Tabernacle, one of Atlanta’s most intimate and distinctive concert venues. With a scant capacity of 2,600, tickets for either show were a hot commodity, with the Friday date selling out several weeks in advance and Thursday following quickly.
The lucky 311 faithful that were able to snag tickets for either date got the chance to swap their usual mile-away lawn space for the up-close-and-personal experience that is The Tabernacle.
On Thursday, a healthy line of fans formed early in the front of the red brick converted church, clamoring for both a spot at the front of the line and any place out of the mid-afternoon sun.
By early evening, the crowd had swelled around the corner of Luckie Street and around the block. Despite the heat, the crowd was upbeat and passed the time swapping stories of past shows and wish lists for the night’s setlist. Once inside the three-level, stack-balconied building, the floor and upper balcony were quick to fill.
The only thing more varied than 311’s set lists are their opening acts. Past artists to share the stage in Atlanta run the gamut of hip-hop, rock, and reggae including The Offspring, The Wailers, Snoop Dogg, English Beat, and G Love & Special Sauce. For the 2014 tour, 311 added a new category by having DJ Soulman warm up the crowd with a fun mix of custom beats over new and classic tunes crossing several genres. More than the stereotypical “press play and then try to look busy”, DJ Soulman also served as emcee for the night, keeping the crowd fired up before 311 took the stage.
With nowhere for the sound to go, the enthusiastic crowd erupted as 311 came on. The Thursday show was live-streamed for free on Yahoo Screen, and for the larger mass audience, 311 pulled out a peppered mix of several of their better-known hits (“Beautiful Disaster” as the opener, “Do You Right,” “Amber,” “All Mixed Up” and “Love Song”) before closing out with as pitch-perfect and hard-rocking a version of “Down” as the band has played in years as an encore.
Though the venue changed up for this tour, there were plenty of familiar sights for 311 fans including the always-impressive Chad Sexton drum solo and the all-band standing drum performance woven seamlessly into “Applied Science.” There were also new gems worked in, most notably the smooth, near-virtuosic bass solo by fan-favorite P-Nut on his lit-neck five-string.
Friday night, fans had to fight a little harder for their right to party on the way to the show. Downtown Atlanta around the Tabernacle was a sea of activity. In addition to the usual torture that is Atlanta Friday rush-hour traffic, incoming 311 fans had to contend with dueling Israel/Palestine rallies on Marietta Street and a surprise private Lady Gaga concert next door at Centennial Olympic Park.
Once parked and out of the madness, fans were rewarded with a much breezier, less-humid wait outside. The line formed denser and even quicker than Thursday, with a thick rope of fans anxious to see what night two held in store.
On stage at 9:00 on the dot, the band wasted no time hitting hard with the amped-up opener “Don’t Stay Home,” which had the floor heaving and balconies bouncing from minute one. From the outset, this was not the energy level expected of a 20-plus-year-old band on their fourth consecutive night of performing. The pace was quick, firing from one song straight into another throughout the night.
Whereas Thursday had many more flowing, mellow songs (“Amber,” “Love Song,” etc.), Friday reached back to much of the earlier hard-rocking 311 that swelled the live audiences of the ‘90s. A third of the 24-song Friday show set were lifted straight from Music, Grassroots and 311 (aka the blue album).
For the fans that showed up for their first chance to hear the new releases live, 311 didn’t disappoint. Seven of the 22-song Thursday playlist came from Stereolithic, the band’s most recent offering that was released on 311 Day (March 11th). Combined with the Friday set, the band played the 15-song album in its entirety.
Speaking of the Friday combination, fans that were lucky enough to get passes for both nights were not short-changed. The shows each night were neither abbreviated nor repeated. In fact, the only song replayed on both nights was “Applied Science,” setting up the drum solos, with Chad Sexton using the opening of the Friday solo to cue an impromptu Braves tomahawk chant. The Thursday and Friday night shows combined for 45 different songs spanning every 311 album before the crowd finally let the band off stage. It was four hours of music not to have been missed.
The Summer tour picks back up on Sunday at the Soul Kitchen Music Hall in Mobile, Alabama before heading west to close out July with three straight performances in Texas.