311 has a new EP coming out in a few weeks - for now, a sampling of their 2009 release "Uplifter" and also a concert seen that same summer 2009.
June 2 saw the release of 311's 9th "Uplifter". In the weeks preceding, I saw that Bob Rock was on as producer. After several widely-considered-travesties (St. Anger, anyone?) or just plain boring (The Offspring's Rise & Fall), I was concerned. Thankfully, for no reason. His presence does dial up the crunch, but it's still a strong set.
It opens with the celebratory "Hey You!" and segues right into the relaxed-but-still-crunchy "It's Alright" and it's clear this is both a celebration/party album and a mellow relax-a-thon all in one. They have taken a shine back towards reggae-mellow-out tracks the last few albums, and this one has a few gems in that category. "2 Drops In The Ocean" and "My Heart Sings" are both pleasant, well played, and serve nicely to balance things out. These are the kind of songs many fans aren't crazy about (2 I talked to at the concert weren't). To each his own on that, I still say it rounds out the mix nicely. It would be boring if it were 12 songs just like that, just the same as it would if it were an album with 12 clones of the driving crunch-blast of "India Ink". Variety is the spice of life.
Others have noted this album is a bit lyrically skewed for the live set, which makes some songs sound off listening to, but better in concert. I was fortunate to catch them in concert at SPAC on 6/23, and I agree, they do sound better with the energy of the crowd to buoy them along. None are bad songs, just that they work better in concert.
Speaking of the concert, to get an idea where I'm going, the set list for last night's show is here
The opening tune was a great introduction, swerved deliciously into the classic "Beautiful Disaster" and coming right out with one of their bigger hits "All Mixed Up" early on. The song has been a good one always, but it sounded even better live. Mahoney's crisp, fluid guitar just brought it home in a way the studio version just doesn't quite capture. From that point, a joyful leap-frogging between favorites from the new album and older tracks mixed in began.
The full-band drum blast during "Applied Science" was a brief, but impressive sight to see. A fellow concertgoer I struck up a conversation with was especially ecstatic as he'd told me before they came on stage that he was hoping they'd play that song for just that reason.
The focus was on the heavier tracks, with a few mellow breakdowns sprinkled in ("Amber" and "Beyond The Gray Sky" were classic lighter-swaying frenzies), and when Nick exhorted the crowd to jump and sing along with him, the crowd did ("What Was I Thinking" and "Jackpot" saw this most impressively. His onstage energy is definitely infectious and he kept it going right through to the end. They even have nice grace under pressure. 3/4 through Mahoney's pedal goofed up, and they covered by having P-Nut stroll out and do some solo bass jamming. 5 minutes can seem like an eternity when the crowd is starting to notice not all is well (and you could hear they were), but the band picked back up admirably, with Nick joking "That one was time-filler in Saratoga, you heard it here first", and went right back into the set without missing a beat.
The encore packed in a nice 1-2 punch of older "Omaha Stylee" and breakthrough hit closer "Down". All in all a fantastic show and highly recommended if you haven't seen them already.
At the end of the day, 311 are 9 albums in and still bringing tight harmonies, gorgeous melodies, and well-rounded production that lets all of the above shine through. Not band for a band 20 years in, I think. Check them out if you haven't already.