Pepper bassist/vocalist Bret Bollinger stood at the peak of the Santa Barbara Bowl and boldly shouted, “Our first live show was here in Santa Barbara four years ago,” as if to draw some sort of nostalgia or loyalty out of the straggling crowd before him. Because four years earlier, with expectations higher than ever for the ska/punk/reggae/dub trio, all Pepper did was lay an egg. With Santa Barbara still reeling in the wake of Bradley Nowell’s untimely death, many have hailed Pepper as a worthy heir to the throne once held by now-infamous Sublime. Pepper, opening for 311, a staple in the California mainstream, lulled an anxious, energetic crowd to sleep with a only a few performances – “Ho’s” and “Give it Up” – that actually mustered some electricity amongst the crowd.
Maybe it was the early start time (6:30 pm on a Thursday night) for the traditionally late-blooming Santa Barbara crowd, or the short set list (clocking in at roughly 35 minutes), or maybe it was just that they didn’t want to upstage their good friends in 311 (they recorded their latest album In With The Old at the Hive, 311’s Los Angeles studio), that contributed to their sub-par performance.
311 however, who has pooped out successful albums for over 10 years now, and made a living out of playing countless shows in between recording their 8-plus albums, didn’t fail to disappoint. Though a rather small venue for a group of their caliber, lead singer Nick Hexum dubbed the Bowl his “favorite place to play” early on in the set.
A lengthy wait between sets gave the crowd 50 minutes to get good and inebriated, then the Nebraska natives made their grandiose entrance, turning the entire Bowl turn into bedlam with the Transistor classic “Beautiful Disaster.”
While the tour was surely set up to promote the recent release of Don’t Tread On Me, 311’s intent seemed to be a far cry from shameless self-promotion. The band’s first six songs, in fact, mostly consisted of older hits like “Freak Out” and “You Wouldn’t Believe.”
Perhaps one of the more boisterous, crowd-shaking performances came during “Applied Science,” when drummer Chad Sexton went off the deep end with a three-minute wild drum solo, giving the rest of the 311 crew plenty of time to exit and re-enter, each with their own personal drum kit in tow. The five-member entourage engaged in the drum number everyone has come to expect since the 2004 release of “Live in New Orleans 311 Day” – a DVD that marked the band’s annual concert celebration of March 11th. Similarly, during an expected performance of “All Mixed Up” they ended up drifting off into a different medley that has also been familiarized to anyone who has seen their DVD release.
Although Hexum and vocal cohort SA Martinez kept the crowd interaction with all four thousand of us to a minimum, those who came to watch them jam got their money’s worth. Some say that 311 is past its prime, reminding us how it’s been nearly 10 years since they busted onto the scene in the late ’90s. Such opinions may or may not be true, but either way, in the mid 2000s, the old men can still put on one hell of a show.