While record temperatures were sweeping the east coast, heat and humidity soared in Michigan too. However, the unrelenting sun was not enough to keep people away from the Unity Tour, an annual amphitheatre tour headlined by 311. On Wednesday, July 7th, and in mid-90s weather, fans filled out DTE Music Theatre to see the rock-reggae veterans. Joining 311 this year were punk veterans The Offspring and relative newbies Pepper.
Pepper, a rock-reggae three piece hailing from Hawaii, opened the show. Before the band took the stage, the crew was setting up various props—pieces of their set included a large surfboard, a lifeguard tower, and red banners with female lifeguards holding floatation devices in silhouette. When the band took the stage shirtless and in red swimming trunks, it was as if they had just stepped off the set of BayWatch. And while this was clearly a gimmick, they seemed dressed more appropriately than I was for the weather.
Though it was a late-arriving crowd, Pepper gave it all up during their set for the people who were in attendance. Songs ranged from slowed-down rock-reggae grooves to sped-up punk and to heavier moments featuring shredding guitar solos. The opening song adapted parts of “Right Round” into their own original composition, which was a good strategy to draw an unfamiliar crowd—they gave the people something familiar, but also something that introduced the audience to their sound.
Throughout the crowd, people were bobbing their heads along to the beat. The band members had fun on stage, picking on one-another, cracking jokes with the crowd, and even playing around with the lyrics to their songs. In “Dirty,” vocalist and guitar player Kaleo Wasman sang, “You were so sad because 311 didn’t come around.” Their set included songs from their 2008 release Pink Crustaceans and Good Vibrations as well as newer releases, including one song they claimed to have never played for an audience before. While wrapping up their set, Kaleo said, “Let’s finish big,” and they followed it up with an extended ending of loud guitars and many crashing symbols, after which he quipped, “That was over the top.”
More concertgoers filtered in during the downtime between bands and by the time The Offspring was ready to go on, the place had filled out. When Dexter Holland took the stage with his trademark peroxide blonde spiked hair, he was met with a standing ovation, and fans remained standing through the entire set. The band opened with “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid,” and played a set that included songs from throughout their career, including a brand new song, “You Will Find A Way.” Unlike Pepper, The Offspring did not dress for the weather—clad in black t-shirts and jeans and performing under bright stage lights seemed like a recipe for disaster. However, midway through the set, the band was given a break when a piano was rolled out onto the stage and Dexter played a solo piano version of “Gone Away.” The band re-joined him afterwards to finish out the set.
The one glaring low point of the set was their cover of The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton.” I don’t know if the band felt pressure to do something reggae-influenced since they were sharing the stage with Pepper and 311, or if they were trying to get back to their punk roots, or if they really just thought this would be a good idea. Whatever the case, they butchered the song, which Dexter had dedicated to Joe Strummer and The Clash. A friend remarked to me, “You know Joe is rolling over in his grave.”
But The Offspring were quick to recover and closed out the set with a series of hits that had the audience fist-pumping and screaming along. Highlights in the set included “Keep Them Separated,” “Head Around You,” and “The Kids Aren’t Alright.” They closed with “Self Esteem,” a clear fan favorite that had the crowd in an uproar before it was over.
And though The Offspring received a standing ovation and left the stage with fans yelling for more, the night clearly belonged to 311. The minute the band entered the stage, fans were on their feet, climbing over rows of seats to get as close to the front as possible. The crowd erupted when the band opened with their classic hit “Down,” the smell of marijuana was heavy in the air, and the amphitheatre seemed to convert into the largest frat party ever. Even though the temperature dropped a couple of degrees after the sunset, it was hardly noticeable with all the bodies pushing towards the stage and dancing nonstop through the set.
Originally from Omaha, Nebraska, 311 is composed of Nick Hexum (vocals/guitar), SA Martinez (vocals/DJ), Tim Mahoney (lead guitar), Chad Sexton (drums), and P-Nut (bass). Over the past twenty years, they have crafted a multi-genre sound that mixes rock, reggae and hip-hop, and their performance at DTE felt more like an open jam. Their set included hits like “All Mixed Up” and “Amber.” They finished their set with “Creatures (For A While),” but were called back on stage for a two-song encore.
The Detroit stop on the 2010 Unity Tour came to a close, and the crowd seemed elated as they made their way out of the theatre. Elated and sweaty.