Concert Sutra Celebrates Transistor with 311
by terri sapp
Photographs by Leah Yetter
© Concert Sutra, All Rights Reserved
I can remember the very day, August 7, 1997, when 311 released their most experimental album to date, Transistor. I rushed to the local music store in Macon, Georgia (I was finishing up in college), bought a couple of copies (one of which is still in the wrapper), and cuddled up with my CD player. I pulled the lyrics booklet out, and pushed play. From beginning to end, I read along with the music and was blown away. Up to this point in their recording career, we only got traces of the side of 311 that would elevate even the most focused Buddhist monk. Transistor was the first time 311 really stepped out of the comfort of the heavier sound that dominated the first few studio albums. I believe that the success of the blue self-titled album allowed them the freedom to create something truly original and test the waters, with the heavy grassroots following they had accrued, with styles and flows we were not used to at that point. Transistor, in my experience, has always been the most controversial album among fans of 311. Most either love it or try to hate on it. I personally LOVE it! Of course, I am the kind of 311 fan that has really never heard one note that I did not respond to from them. I felt then and now that Transistor is a brilliant collection of songs that spotlight the versatility of the band that I most love to spend my time with. You can imagine how happy I was when Nick Hexum announced, “Now, seeing as this is the ten year anniversary of a record we made called Transistor, we’ll play a couple songs off of it.” At that point, I screamed…and had a glimmer of hope that they might finally play my song, “Running,” in Atlanta…after ten years of begging…
Always obviously ecstatic to be playing in Atlanta, Nick Hexum (vocals, guitar, programming), SA Martinez (vocals, scratches), P-Nut (bass), Chad Sexton (drummer extraordinaire, percussion, programming), and Timothy J. Mahoney (guitar god) brought their usual dose of wonderfully positive energy to the nearly sold out Hi-Fi Buys Amphitheatre on July 19, 2007. I love the way they always come up with a way to make the shows that they play part of a special occasion of some sort. I am not sure if everyone on the tour got the special Transistor shout out, but I sure am glad to be an ATLian at times like this. In looking around the set lists from the other shows on the recent Unity Tour, 2007, I realized that Atlanta got one of the longest set lists of the entire tour (as of mid-August)! I caught many of the shows on the actual Transistor Tour in 1997, including the Halloween show at the lovely Greek Theatre in Berkley, CA, and I found myself just as excited to hear these rare and beautiful songs than ten years ago when they were new to me. After a very tribal drum intro, “Freak Out” was the kick start for the night. One to always get the crowd jump started. One of the best things of the entire night with 311 was that I was FINALLY able to get my fabulous Photographer, Leah Yetter in the press pit with her most wonderful equipment to capture the essence of my boys like nobody else can. The photo gallery for the month is a must see, whether you love 311 or not. Beautiful work! I want to point out the photo of Nick and P-Nut (one of the first 311 pics) during “Freak Out.” They are both in midair, jumping up and down while performing vocally and on the bass. These guys make high energy performing look easy, even into their thirties! J U M P! “If you don’t have someone to do it with its not worth doing…To all my friends, it’s not the end…the Earth has not swallowed me, yet!”
The only time I welcome “Misdirected Hostility” is at a 311 show! Chad Sexton is a beast, no matter what he is playing, but I have always had a place in my heart for the drum line in this song. It is weird to think back to a time when 311 didn’t have songs like “Misdirected Hostility” in their repertoire, and how far they have come since those days. These guys are a perfect example of how something that works just eventually gels into a well-oiled machine and keep on top of the game staying true to their grassroots. “Prisoner” was the first gem they showed from the Transistor group. Not as common as other Transistor regulars, “Prisoner” is a welcomed reggae rock piece. Another where Chad kills the reggae beat. I can never wrap my mind around his raw talent. Sexton has to be one of the top three drummers of all time. I only say top three, because I know that if I tried to say all time best, I’d think of another killer drummer that deserves rank as well…top f’in notch! No doubt! I defy anyone to try and hate on Chad Sexton…you can’t do it!!! His abilities are undeniable. I am forever amazed. Every time I hear 311 come across my play list, or if I stick an album into the rotation in my new Toyota’s 6 CD changer, I still, after being an avid fan for fifteen years, find my jaw dropping at the sounds of Chad’s pure and unapologetic skills.
“Beautiful Disaster” is a fun one, but has been pretty much a staple in the 311 concert since the 1997 release of Transistor. Another controversial number is the “50 First Dates” soundtrack contribution the Cure’s “Love Song” cover. Of course, I love it, and find it to be a nicely relaxed, reggaed up 311 version with Mahoney’s special touch. These are also opportunities to hear the beautiful harmonies that SA and Nick spit. They have evolved into rich and powerful singers over the years. The performance of SA and Nick is quite impressive to someone who knows firsthand what it takes to perform with high energy and sing at the same time. “You Wouldn’t Believe” gets dedicated to show openers The English Beat, who rocked the house. I wish they had been on more of the tour. They were awesome! I’d recommend them to all who dig good music. I have such love and respect for what Mahoney and Chad do that I can’t seem to shut up about them, but “You Wouldn’t Believe” is another glaring example of how well they work together. Not to discount P-Nut’s place in that gel, because he rocks the beat! It is no secret that I have always has special places in my heart for Tim Mahoney and Chad Sexton. In the classic “old school 311” tune “Summer of Love,” P-Nut leads the pack with his bass fingering. SA’s voice is so pretty, too, when he sings falsetto. It hits me right in my womanly wears! I just love the songs when Mahoney plays that melodic and funky stuff on his baby blue badass guitar! The crowd loves the “Summer of Love!” So much so that we would all choose to “Freeze Time” if we could. Soundsystem contribution, “Freeze Time” gets the party hopping with its heavy resonance. These guys have such great fans that we don’t even need prior instructions for crowd participation, but mostly have been to enough 311 shows that we know the spots where they want crowd participation! Addictive…what can I say?
I realized when I was writing this that I had gotten vertigo just after the 311 show in 2005, and this year, the second time I have gotten vertigo in my life, I had vertigo AT the 311 show. It was a new experience for me. My story is they must have played “Nix Hex” just for me, because they must have felt that I was “dizzy with a sense of vertigo.” I have always had a strange cosmic connection with this band, no kidding. The slow sexy psychedelic pace of “Nix Hex” soothes my soul in such a way, like so much of the show, that for a few moments as I was leaving the show I thought I was truly healed of my vertigo by the music. 311 live is totally cathartic for me. I am the loud and the proud! An old favorite that used to be a staple, but is now more an every once in a while treat, “Plain” was at one time the song in the show where Nick would say afterwards, “Tim Mahoney on guitar!” Tonight, he prefaced “Plain” by saying it in between “Nix Hex” and “Plain,” since Mahoney’s is a focus on both songs. “Don’t have to guess just what I’m sayin’ if I had a point, I’d say it plain…stress is the enemy and not a friend to me. One thing I see is to be easy goin’ throwin’ down sit back and watch my life flowing and knowing life is but a dream…don’t you know that the devil he’s in me, and god, she is, too. My Tin hates my Yang, but what the hell are you gonna do?…nod your head to this!” Brings back many wonderful memories! “Applied Science” is a sure fire crowd hyper! This has become the standard drum solo “pump it, pump it, Chad Sexton!” Over the years, Sexton is still able to make the drum solo new and exciting. This time they even changed the part in the show that they have done for a while when the entire band joins Chad in the drum solo. This time, instead of the big Tympani drums they have used for the several years that they have been doing the full band drum extravaganza (I remember them adding that in 2000, for me, at the Chinese New Year show at the Fox, Atlanta, but my memory could be off a little), they all had their own mini drum kits. Tim and SA had a bass type drum, with cymbals, and Nick and P-Nut had the bass type drums, with snare and cymbals (all drums were fractally chaotic).
“Cali Soca” was a first for Atlanta. This is the first time we have gotten it this unique instrumental moment from what my memory tells me. Nick said it “was written for just such occasions…hot summer nights.” Very island. Damn, P-Nut, bass and all! A perfect balance to the red hot guitar from Mahoney and Hexum. “Don’t Tread On Me” follows “Soca” up perfectly. I am a sucker for a reggae beat. Mahoney delivers every time with his upbeat strokes. Must not forget to mention the ambiance that SA creates with his work on the mixers and turntables he is always playing with throwing different sounds all over the place.
And then it happened…Mahoney’s guitar, then Chad and P-Nut…that beat…it can’t be…I am in a state of shock…could it be?…then SA confirms…OH MY GOD! TEN YEARS I HAVE BEGGED AND WAITING, AND 311 FINALLY PLAYED “RUNNING” (my Transistor favorite, music written by Timothy J. Mahoney) IN ATLANTA!!!!!!!!! I can’t remember all of the shenanigans I tried to pull to get 311 to play “Running.” I even (back in 97 when I started) tried throwing things onstage to Mahoney’s guitar tech at the time, Trevor, and enclosing certain wonderful smelling bribes and tapes and whatnot to try and get the attention I would need to get it done. And nothing, til now. I blissfully bask in the aura that is the melodic wonder of “Running.” There are many times that I have had with 311 that are forever burned in my memory, and these few minutes of this concert is one of those times. Right up there with the first time I met one of the band (Chad in Birmingham, Alabama at the Sloss Furnaces, 1996), and the first time I ever met Tim (backstage at Hi-Fi Buys when they played a festival in the mid 90’s). I AM SURE (in my mind) that 311 played “Running” for me, because somewhere along the way I crept into their sub conscious minds and they said to themselves that they couldn’t possibly play a “Transistor” anniversary celebration show in Atlanta and NOT play “Running.” I know in my mind that (and if only in my mind) they knew it would be WRONG if they did not play it for us after all these years. They even put me and Leah in excellent seats, I believe, so that I would have a great view of “Running!” That I did! Before the show, a nice fella with a Soundsystem T-Shirt on asked me what song I’d most wanna hear tonight, and without hesitation, I said “Running.” When they started playing it, I was in such a state of disbelief that he turned to smile at me, and I was still debating whether I was actually hearing what I thought I was hearing. One of my dreams was fulfilled this night, and that I will never forget.
“Dedicated to all the old school 311 fans in the house tonight,” “Down” has become their way of thanking the loyal fans from over the years. As the song I watched them play on the David Letterman show (another memorable time to celebrate), “Down” will always be special to me. Golden Oldie from Transistor, “Sharshines” is a fun one to jam out to. Not one that is heard on a regular basis! “Flowing,” on the other hand, has been in and out of the set lists for good reason. Forever to be referred to as the song that put Lucky in Grady Hospital at the 1999 Halloween show at the Tabernacle. It was too psychedelic and distorted for his mind to comprehend at that moment… Memories!!! “Homebrew” must come to 311 like riding a bike! They don’t miss a beat. There was a major memory behind most of the songs in the set at Hi-Fi Buys Amphitheatre. They shot the live concert footage from the “Homebrew” video at the Masquerade Music Park back in “the day.” “Stealing Happy Hours,” another of my favs from Transistor, has a laid back and melodic composition. Everyone in the band contributes musically to this guitar aria. A beautiful blend of talents. “Amber” keeps with the chillaxin’ vibe. The gals seem to eat this stuff up. Soft and sensitive…right into one of the harder tunes on Transistor, “What The Fuck Was I Thinking?” most definitely heightens the energy level beyond the red zone! They always rock it out on that one. Almost as much as when they ultimately say, “P-Nut, beat that thang!” “Feels so Good” is P-Nut’s turn to show off his mad bass playing. Funkiness is next to godliness in my opinion, so “In Your Face” must be divine. P-Nut is the funk, so it is no surprise that he is featured in this extremely funky ditty.
What kind of a night would we be having if 311 did not play “All Mixed Up” before the end of the night? In one tune, you have pretty much a taste of most all of the styles that 311 are known for. All in one! That is one reason “All Mixed Up” is and has been a show favorite, and even had an entire re-mix record devoted to it. Only to be followed up by another of my most pleasantly preferred lullabies, “Beyond the Gray Skies.” I LOVE ANYTHING THAT TIM MAHONEY HAS A HAND IN WRITING!!! I can even pick them out when first hearing the recordings. I have a sixth sense for it, I think! To end the night, we all became “Creatures (For a While).” “Sometimes I go a little crazy just like you!” 311 always gives words of wisdom as the last notes of the show are being played. At this show, SA offered, “Take care of yourselves…take care of someone else…Fuck!” Nick stuck with one of his catch phrases, “Stay positive! Love your life!”
As always, 311 brought their “A” game and let Atlanta have it all night. I finally had my girl, Leah there to work her magic with the photos, so a visit to the fabulous photo gallery this month is a MUST! The first three songs were shot on Leah’s fine Professional top of the line Canon equipment, and the rest were shot on my Canon Powershot. Not bad for lower Mega Pixels! You do not want to miss these: http://www.concertsutra.com/cs3110707/. For more information on 311’s 2007 Unity Tour, and all things 311, visit them at http://www.311.com/. One Love!