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REVIEW: 311 celebrates 30 years of music in Reno

By Tony Contini

Spoken simply, 311 still got it. They’ve always had it. The five-piece from Omaha dish out pocket grooves, enthralling bass, playful leads, and an onslaught of vocals from frontmen Nick Hexum and SA Martinez over a fusion of hard/alt rock, hip-hop, and funk.

311 stopped by the Grand Sierra Resort’s Grand Theater last Saturday celebrating 30 years with the same lineup. Their musical brotherhood has yielded 13 studio albums, three dozen singles, and 30 jubilant 3/11 days.

“Nebraskan rappers,” there’s a phrase you don’t hear too often.

Both voices of 311 are so dynamic and familiar, even the songs you might’ve let slip by through the years still feel nostalgic and right. Though, most 311 fans know every album inside and out. At the very least, the guy singing in my ear behind me did.

Hexum will back up SA’s verses like a hype man, then they’ll harmonize choruses and vocal lines effortlessly as tenured professionals. 311’s vocalists are not only articulate and fun, they’re often profound. Lines like, “When I look at you it’s like praying with my eyes” will never escape my psyche. They give the genre nu-metal a good name.

We be freaky and we want to stay.”

They ignited the evening by the second song with the 1997 single “Beautiful Disaster.” They kept the fire alive with a bombardment of singles, throwbacks, and their popular cover of The Cure’s “Lovesong.”

The best part is they still have fun and it’s tangible. On top of the elation, their catalog is deep enough to keep things exciting.

311 is a spectacle of talent and musicianship. Every member is either virtuosic or performing multiple duties. SA is “the only DJ MC gettin’ down like that.”

Hexum takes turns jamming from stage right to left with lead guitarist Tim Mahoney and bassist extraordinaire Aaron “P-Nut” Wills as celestial scenes and trips through worm holes are projected on screens behind them.

Whether P-Nut and drummer Chad Sexton are in the pocket, or he’s showcasing flashy skills, his presence is always felt, and not just because of his lit-up fret board.

“Somebody say, ‘P-Nutttttttttt’,” Hexum said to the crowd before his bass solo.

P-Nut slayed through lightning fast licks and showed the world every bass trick in the book from tapping, slap and pop, to effect-laden spacey soundscapes. He’s a little Cliff Burton, a little Flea, and one part extraterrestrial. His bass technique clinic alone is worth the ticket price.

Sexton’s drum solo was impressive and perplexing. I’ve been covering shows for a long time, and I can still be impressed and viscerally moved, but rarely am I confused. Sexton alone created not only percussion but also melody. Some Korg device attached to his expansive kit changed the pitch of his hits and it ended up sounding like sitar over tabla.

While Sexton essentially jammed with himself, they brought out an array of percussion set-ups, gongs, and a huge bass drum for P-Nut. All five members melded into the percussion solo and occasionally tossed a drum stick to the left in unison.

311’s encore featured “Omaha Stylee” and “Down.” A quote from the latter perfectly encapsulates their lasting presence in music and onstage: “We be freaky and we want to stay.”

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