Wednesday, July 15, 2009

311/Ziggy Marley concert review

A version of my review appeared on last Monday.

311, Ziggy Marley
Where: Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Irvine
When: July 12
Next: Marley does an in-store performance/signing for kids album “B is for Bob,” 1 p.m. July 25, Barnes & Noble, Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica

Talk about dichotomies.

311 returned to Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre on Sunday night and concluded its annual summer Unity tour, but not everyone had the spirit of togetherness in mind. Right before the show started, some wasted male lunkheads in the orchestra section nearly got into a fight. After security personnel intervened, they resisted and were ejected.

I’m surprised another altercation didn’t ensue when other people got too carried away with their wild dances to 311 music. Maybe it’s the band’s rap-rock roots, which always seems to attract a fan element lacking common sense.

Still an extremely popular live attraction after nearly two decades together, the eclectic Omaha-bred, L.A.-based quintet has been a mainstay on alternative radio pretty much since its inception. While the past few studio releases haven’t sold quite as well as their ‘90s predecessors, the new album “Uplifter” debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 – 311’s highest chart debut to date. First single “Hey You” went top 10 on the modern rock tally, aided by support from KROQ.

“Uplifter,” produced by Bob Rock (Metallica), combines a heavy guitar/drum sound with pop harmonies and 311’s trademark mélange of reggae/funk/hip hop to fine effect. All those elements were represented during a vigorous, well-paced 100-minute show in Irvine. The venue was about three-quarters full.

The band opened, appropriately enough, with “Never Ending Summer,” the first of eight “Uplifter” tunes performed. Frontman Nick Hexum, sporting a punkish ‘do and clad entirely in white, wielded a flying V electric guitar and sang about the fun of touring alongside good friends.

In a recent interview, Hexum said he and guitarist Tim Mahoney took lessons to sharpen their skills during the four-year gap between albums. A newfound dexterity was noticeable, especially on new songs “Something Out of Nothing” and “India Ink.”

SA Martinez, Hexum’s vocal foil, constantly veered from scratching at the turntables to rocking the mic and lock stepping around the stage. The pair were a bundle of energy all night, especially amid intense hits like “Beautiful Disaster,” “All Mixed Up” - where the crowd pogoed along - and “Creatures (For a While).” Mahoney’s shimmering work on the laid back “Amber” and “Beyond the Gray Sky” was simply gorgeous. The latter found the audience raising their lighters aloft (no shortage of Bics here, folks).

If you’ve seen 311 on previous tours, drummer Chad Sexton’s extended spotlight and the guys’ percussion display on “Applied Science” is now old hat. And we could do without P-Nut’s bass solo before “What Was I Thinking?"

For the encores, the group went back to the beginning for the frenetic “Omaha Stylee,” a ‘90s medley and “Down.”

“We’re all one big family,” said a jubilant Ziggy Marley, before launching a warm, enticing and thought-provoking hour-long set at dusk. With his two adorable young children in tow (singing, playing drums), a tight eight piece band and the word “Love” spelled out above the stage, Marley did the acoustic folk title track to his new kids album “Family Time.”

That fun collection - which features contributions by Paul Simon, Jack Johnson and Willie Nelson - is a companion to another, “B is for Bob,” where Ziggy reimagined his famous father’s tunes for little tykes with different instrumentation.

Playing an electric guitar in bright Jamaican colors, Marley, at 41, a dead ringer for pa these days, frequently sang with eyes closed and immersed himself in the rapturous rhythms. The singer provided pointed introductions to songs like the socially conscious “Justice,” “Still the Storms” – among five culled from 2007’s Grammy-winning “Love is My Religion” - and Bob’s “Africa Unite.” Other standouts included the infectious Melody Makers hit “Look Who’s Dancing” and more Bob compositions, “Lively Up Yourself” and “Is This Love?”

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