311 to perform Saturday in the Field House

BY DAN WATSON | APRIL 16, 2009 7:38 AM

Growing up in Council Bluffs, UI junior Quinn Walsh had an advantage in the alternative-rock scene.

Just across the Missouri River, in Omaha, is the birthplace of one of rock’s most popular bands, 311.

“I’ve been to a bunch of 311 concerts,” the 21-year-old Walsh said. “I started listening to it because the band members grew up near me, and now my love for their energy on stage grows every time I see them perform.”

Walsh and other 311 fans have the opportunity to see the rock/reggae/funk/ska/hip-hop — slash numerous other genres — group perform one of its “undeniable” live shows at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Field House. Tickets are $32; the concert is under the auspices of SCOPE.

311’s roots can be traced to June 10, 1990, when the band played its first gig opening up for well-known punk-rock band Fugazi.

Since that show, 311 has recorded nine studio albums (with six reaching multiplatinum sales), has seen numerous songs crack the Billboard music charts top-10, and has broken into the upper-tier of rock music’s hierarchy.

But the band has been relatively quiet since its last full-length release, Don’t Tread on Me, which hit stores in 2005.

“We are five really creative people,” 311 bassist Aaron “P-Nut” Wills said. “We are not all as tenacious as each other, and we needed to step back and try to make our music more of a conversation rather than a one-sided monologue.”

While the band has never seriously thought about breaking up, he said, there was “definitely poor communication” among members since recording sessions for 2003’s Evolver, stretching through the band’s tour in support of Don’t Tread on Me.

“I think that situation was as close to [breaking up] as we’ll ever let it get again,” said Wills, 34. “It isn’t the easiest thing to be creative in a group environment, but we have really used this situation as a creative launch pad.”

On June 2, band will release its first album in nearly four years with Uplifter, a project on which the group collaborated with rock producer Bob Rock. The band ended a lengthy stint with producer Ron Saint Germain when recording Uplifter because 311’s sound was getting “a little old hat,” Wills said.

The new album reconnects the band with its improvisational roots, which, he said, were missing from 311’s last two full-length releases.

“This album has a lot of sounds that happened on the day of recording.” he said. “Bob [Rock] is really into instant inspiration, and it added a whole new level to the album — he really lets it live and breathe.”

311 released Uplifter’s first single, “Hey You,” on April 9. The song is on the band’s rock ’n’ roll side, drawing comparisons with “Creatures” and “Come Original,” as opposed to such funky reggae jams as “Amber” and the group’s cover of the Cure’s “Love Song.”

While the title Uplifter was coined to describe the band members’ collective mood, Wills said, it can also be applied to the general message the group wants to convey.

“One of our most basic goals is to project positivity,” he said. “We will try to remind our fans that, like the good times can’t last forever, neither can the bad times.”

During the 2008 presidential election, 311 supported Barack Obama through its website and blog, and in 2004, lead singer Nick Hexum campaigned with Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

“It’s funny, because Uplifter mirrors our country’s current situation,” Wills said. “Diplomacy is always the right thing. We need to talk through our problems, instead of doing something stupid.”

The Iowa City show is the band’s third concert in an extended tour that goes until late July. While 311 fans can be found throughout the world, Wills said, playing in the Midwest is always special because it’s close to home.

“I’ve always heard [the group] puts on really cool shows,” UI senior and longtime 311 fan Jason Phelps said. “I’m very excited to see the band play, because I never have before, but its music is very personal and brings back good memories of high school.”

The band members are known to be highly interactive with the crowd, and they bring a slew of sounds never heard on their CDs to live shows.

“The band [members are] masters at bringing the energy level up, then slowing it down for a couple of songs, only to build it back up again,” Council Bluffs fan Walsh said.

311 plans on playing three or four songs from its upcoming album, which should be a highlight for hard-core fans, Wills said. In his opinion, the band’s live shows are where people on the edge of liking 311 become fans for life.

“I like to think our shows are a place where everyone can forget what is going on ,” he said. “And if we stay intelligent and ride this current upswing we are feeling, there is no reason we won’t be enjoying ourselves and spreading good-naturedness for another 20 years.”

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