Hexum and Co. stick to the script but still rock out pavilion

"It's good to be here! Let's have some fun - what do you say?" shouted Nick Hexum - front man of 311 - after the band took the stage at the Charlottesville Pavilion last Sunday. Hexum never stopped thanking the audience during the show, which consistently delivered a performance that was both fun and musically satisfying.

Opening for 311 was BALLYHOO!, a band from Maryland whose musical genre was uncannily similar to that of 311: a mix of funk, rock, hip-hop and reggae. After a 40-minute set, BALLYHOO! left the stage, throwing CD cases and band paraphernalia as they went.

As 311's crew set up during the long intermission, it was easy to reflect on how far the band has come since its humble beginnings in Omaha, Neb. There were more drums, switches and amps than could be counted, and the pavilion's three areas - a lawn section, some tables and chairs and a front floor - were almost entirely filled with a wide variety of fans. Although the audience was made up of mostly college students and 20- to 30-somethings, there were a significant number of older attendees as well, in addition to some pre-teens and even the odd family.

When 311 finally took the stage a little after 8 p.m., the band walked on stage to spinning blue and white lights and a cheering crowd, then jumped straight into an energetic 90-minute set. Although the band's summer tour and current fall tour highlight the group's most recent album, Uplifter, they still played a wide variety from their catalog. Newer songs such as "Jackpot" and "Mix It Up" were interspersed with hits such as "Amber," "From Chaos" and "Creatures (For a While)." Most of the songs showed the high-energy, rap-rock side of the band, but a few were slower and more experimental.

The show certainly showed passion and creativity, but there was still one thing missing: improvisation. There is certainly nothing wrong with a scripted live act - Lady Gaga comes to mind - but the band's songs came so rapid-fire and were so lacking in grandeur and spontaneity that it almost seemed like the show was just a loud re-recording of their studio albums. Even the two-song encore felt scripted - the band only left the stage for two or three minutes and cranked out the final two songs in the same manner as the rest of the set.

That is not to say, however, that the show did not have its share of impressive moments. In the middle of "Applied Science," for instance, all of the band members left the stage except for drummer Chad Sexton, who played an impressive six-minute drum solo. The other four musicians then rejoined him on stage with their own miniature drum sets for another four minutes of percussion-only music.

In similar fashion, bassist P-Nut remained on stage alone after "Beautiful Disaster" and played an extended bass solo. Later on, DJ/vocalist S. A. Martinez displayed his beat-boxing skills during "Purpose." The remainder of the show followed the scripted, choreographed nature of the band's studio albums, but the crowd remained thoroughly entertained from start to finish.

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