Maybe the heat was finally crushing my grasp on reality, baking my brain into oblivion as I stood lodged between drunken bros, stoned amigos, and tanning salon tarts underneath a mid-July sun. I cannot be too sure the events described here actually occurred, but one thing is certain: for four hours yesterday afternoon, Virginia Beach temporarily relocated to the Californian coastline.
Pepper had the opening slot, a short set at just around 45 minutes, but their impact resonated phenomenally. The Kailua-Kona natives, in stereotypical lifeguard garb, shared some random shtick between songs, including the latest from upcoming Popping Clappers titled “Wake Up”, and Guitar Hero: World Tour/No Shame favorite, “Your Face”. Most impressively, this little trio has toured with 311 a few times before, and their love of the reggae/dub/rock fans bled through immensely in every way possible: between beach balls and banter, some goofing off from Bollinger on the bass frets, and Kaleo commenting on the state of the weather, Pepper invited everyone to just enjoy themselves and their glorious human freedoms.
The Offspring‘s Dexter Holland rolled in on a balls-out swagger with the introduction to “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid”, with Noodles always along to start up the roller coaster ride. The band immediately followed up with fan favorite “Bad Habit” and an as-of-yet untitled new song to treat the fans for being so collaborative during the universally recognizable “Bad Habit” bridge verse. I hesitate to claim The Offspring offered severe fan service, as most of the set was comprised of staple singles, including “Hammerhead” and “Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)”, plus three more Americana pieces, and zero Ignition moments.
Holland and the crew did offer some tidbits to complement the evening perfectly, though: a Holland solo rendition of “Gone Away” on piano (a certified fan boy moment here, people), five of the Smash variety, and a somewhat unenthusiastic cover of The Clash’s “Guns Of Brixton”. Much as 311 would do later, the set was wrought with down-tuned instruments, background recordings, and occasionally incomprehensible vocals; on the bright side, two songs I looked forward to hearing were given ample time — just don’t expect any praise for “The New Song”, as it comes across like a heavy-yet-overly-saccharin Rise And Fall B-side crossbred with Foo Fighters.
My first introduction to The Offspring was via Smash and Americana, the band’s landmark and most successful albums. Ignition, Conspiracy Of One, and Ixnay On The Hombre are what snagged my lifelong dedication. It was nice to hear those old singles transferred from your car stereo to a live setting, but a little obscurity would have been nice — a little Ixnay and Ignition, especially.
Upon nightfall, the Omaha boys of 311 took the stage, and as their performance progressed, it was the first time I had ever been so authentically impressed and deplorably bored simultaneously. The set list, while predominantly upbeat with slices of soft surfer atmospheres and mysticism in between, was chock full of lights and stage antics; solos from Aaron “P-Nut” Wills on bass, Tim Mahoney on guitar, Chad Sexton on drums, and a full-band tribal drum exhibition-style performance thrown in for good measure. The DJ pop-locked the whole show, and his co-conspirator Nick Hexum contributed total fan encouragement all night.
The boredom sank in, sadly, when I began realizing that so many of the band’s songs that night sounded exactly alike (with the exception of a few obvious singles and some jam-level solo improv). I got the feel-good message that 311 was providing, and I felt absolutely awestruck being in the presence of my dear Offspring and 311, but there’s mellow and then there’s just…listless. 311 managed to keep its most loyal fans happy, but these are fans you could relate to the dedication of maggots, juggalos, and dead-heads all at once — sometimes it’s awesome, sometimes it’s blind faith, depending on your perception. Hexum could have humped a giant plastic spliff replica on stage and the crowd would have bought it. Much appreciated fellows, but next time, turn up the microphone some and don’t smile like you just got head from an angel. The good news? The entire set was a superb history lesson on 311, full of deep cuts and singles abound.
What exactly do you get when one teams up the Hawaiian equivalent of Sublime, a punk rock surfer band turned modern rock staple, and 311? Summer in a nutshell? This concert should have been a party; it should have been utter insanity, beach ball gimmicks, and good outdoor times for all walks of people, young and old (this is called the Unity Tour for a reason). While it was entertaining, it felt as though the mood had been cheapened by a constant bombardment of advertisers, incoherent microphone volumes, and an unfit amphitheater at half capacity.
While 311 made up for its monotonous sounds with a sincere grab bag of varying tunes for the loyal, The Offspring dominated its more traditional fare with energy and touching moments. Bright sides to an otherwise discombobulated afternoon — and chanting along with “Genocide” was the ultimate highlight, aside from P-Nut’s bass romp.
Verizon Wireless Amphitheater is a wonderful venue with (albeit mildly cramped) seating and strong acoustics to boot, but this tour was not meant for a crowded stage under an awning; this is a festival for the oceanfront, a wet dream for spring break fanatics and summer-loving sand dwellers. The Unity Tour, while well-intentioned, needed a far more appropriate showcase. From the midwest to California, straight up to our lovely I-95, these three bands may have the proper tools to get a great groove going, but tonight felt less like a summer jam of unity than a heat stroke of infamy.
The Offspring Setlist:
You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid
The New Song
Come Out and Play (Keep ‘Em Separated)
All I Want
Gone Away (Piano Version)
Kristy, Are You Doing Okay?
Gotta Get Away
Guns Of Brixton
Why Don’t You Get A Job?
Staring At The Sun
Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)
(Can’t Get My) Head Around You
The Kids Aren’t Alright
All Mixed Up
Beyond The Gray Sky
Let the Cards Fall
Life’s Not A Race
Creatures (For A While)
Feels So Good