TVD Live Shots: 311 at the House of Blues, 2/25

ORLANDO, FL | One of my rare trips back to the States happened last week to Orlando for a Microsoft Advertising global offsite (my day job). I’m always on the lookout for a gig or two when I travel, and this would be no exception. It’s still hit or miss as to which bands are touring in sync with my travel schedule, but this time I lucked out. 311 was playing two sold-out nights at the House of Blues just a few minutes walk from the Microsoft summit. This would be checking two boxes for me: never having been to the House of Blues in Orlando, and I haven’t checked in with 311 in about 20 years.

Back in my college days at the University of Missouri St. Louis, I was working in a record store and someone sent a copy of 311’s debut album Music to the store as a promo. These guys immediately had credibility as they were on an up and coming independent record label named Capricorn Records which was being pushed pretty hard by their distribution company, the all mighty Warner Brothers. I remember 311’s first two records very well as they were gaining traction amongst the cool kids and critics alike, but ignored by radio at the time which can be a good thing for a little while.

Then, true to form, the major label was entirely out of sync with the artist and their fanbase as the band released their third self-titled record which pretty much just kept the converted happy. They failed to release the strongest song on the record as the single, and this would flatline the band for the rest of the year. Then in 1996 someone, somewhere took a chance and played “Down.” That would push record sales on this one alone to more than three million in the US while also driving the first two records to gold status pretty much overnight. 311 had become the hottest band in the US from a song that wasn’t even a single. But it didn’t matter as the band was just getting started.

That’s the kind of story you love to hear from bands at that time, but the reality is that for every hundred or so bands, only one breaks through. One could argue that 311 wasn’t supposed to break that year, but this was one of the benefits of being on an independent label distributed through a major, you always had someone on your side, and they wouldn’t just simply give up and move on to the next artist because many times there wasn’t one.

So how are they holding up these days? While I haven’t kept tabs on them over the last few records, I will say I was blown away by the fact that they not only looked great after almost three decades (not many bands can say that), but they sounded fantastic. Oh, and did I mention that it’s the original band members as well?

I’m a bit biased toward the early material, so “Do You Right” and “Hydroponic” from Music were standouts for me, although I wouldn’t mind if they played that record in its entirety—or have they done that already? Since this was night one of two sold-out shows I’m guessing they had to split the hits between the two. While we did get “Amber” which sounded brilliant, looks like night two got “Down” and “Love Song” which would have been nice to hear. Also missing was their recent cover of the Offspring’s “Self Esteem” which was surprising to not hear. Twenty-one songs, an incredible venue, and what looked to be some delighted fans—so who’s complaining?

There’s no question this band is as relevant as ever as they wowed the capacity crowd, pulling selectively from old and new material alike. I would argue too that they’re better today than they were when I saw them in the ’90s; tighter, more determined, and with a hell of a lot more experience. It makes what one could consider a nostalgia show—a show for the ages.

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