Got your number: 311 headline an unsurprising Summer Roundup at the Bowl

Young the Giant rode the success of their second album "Mind Over Matter" to an appreciative Bowl crowd on Thursday. Guitarist Jacob Tilley, left, and vocalist Sameer Gadhia, right, lead this five-piece alternative rock group out of Irvine.
Young the Giant rode the success of their second album “Mind Over Matter” to an appreciative Bowl crowd on Thursday. Guitarist Jacob Tilley, left, and vocalist Sameer Gadhia, right, lead this five-piece alternative rock group out of Irvine.

Hand it to rock-rap group 311. They’ve been at it for 25 years and have maintained the same line-up ever since, and while they’ve dabbled with changing their sound on albums like “Evolver” and “Universal Pulse,” they still deliver a polished mix of feel-good faux-reggae lyrics, uplifting rap, chugga-chugga metal riffing, and funk bass and drums. On one hand, you can say they have a formula and churn it out; on the other, you can say they’re the most reliable of the ’90s bands that are left.

311 were in town as headliners for KJEE’s Summer Roundup at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Thursday. It had been a beastly day for the heat, way up in 90s, possibly in the 100s, with four different weather services claiming four different temperatures. So the idea of sitting at the Bowl watching three other bands open for 311 may not have been ideal for a lot of folks. Even by the end of the evening, large chunks of seats went unfilled.

So was it the heat, or the lack of enthusiasm for the lineup of bands, or the lower profile of 311 that set the stage for an average evening at the Bowl. With The National, we got rain and transcendence. For 311 we got a heat wave and, well, acceptance.

The first band out was Birds of Tokyo, who are neither from Tokyo nor birds. Instead, they hail from Australia and play tight pop rock. The band is a spinoff from lead singer Ian Kenny’s (better liked, apparently) metal band Karnivool, They definitely sound better live than their way-too smooth studio recordings, which sound like Adult Oriented Rock of the blandest sort. Opener “When the Night Falls Quiet” strived for anthemic, piled on platitudes about rioting without the reasons or the energy to do so. “Broken Bones,” with its hiccuping riff and low menace was much better. They all came dressed in black, which lead singer Ian Kenny noted was indeed a “bad choice.” They stared into the sun, and only a small group of Bowl faithful stared back from the pit. It was 4 p.m. after all.

Next up was electronic pop group Big Data, who have a very catchy hit in “Dangerous.” The band is really producer Alan Wilkis and there’s only a few more songs where that single came from on Big Data’s debut EP. So how to tour it? The answer was Wilkis adding three musicians — a drummer, a guitarist, and vocalist Janelle Kroll (the only female to grace the stage all evening, by the way). Big Data’s songs are about Internet technology, social media, and privacy, and … six songs are quite enough to make the point. We were told afterward that this was their third gig together ever, and let’s add that it sounded as such.

Young the Giant, despite a terrible name, are much more polished and hail from Irvine. They have just released a sophomore album “Mind Over Matter,” and it’s full of pounding drums and soaring choruses. Lead singer Sameer Gadhia has an attractive high range, but strangely when he drops an octave he sounds like a Jim Morrison impression at karaoke night. The best songs of their 10 song set, “Cough Syrup” and “My Body” have pleasant enough melodies, but in the end, they sounded like too many other bands to be memorable.

In between sets, KJEE deejays came out and talked to the crowd, including John Palminteri and Phat Jay, who yelled a lot, as is his wont.

311 finally took the stage at around 8:30, with the sun finally set and a smoke and light show illuminating the stage. At first only bassist P-Nut’s LED bass frets could be seen (a nice touch), and then the band just jumped into it with “Beautiful Disaster” from their breakthrough “Transistor” album. Lead vocalist Nick Hexum still bounces between his mellow droney vocals and rapping, which he shares with S.A. Martinez, who scratches and loops in the background until he too walks the stage with one or two patented moves. (He does the Robot! He skips with one arm behind himself!)

As mentioned earlier, the band is professional and polished and although that’s good, it also produces sets that are a bit perfunctory. One wishes they’d break down a song or open it up, or let a groove ride — surely one could have done that for the stoney anthem “Who’s Got the Herb?” — but instead it feels like the band is slave to a clicktrack or just the clock. There was one part where drummer Chad Sexton solo’d for minutes, while the band wheeled on their own drums and turned the stage into some Blue Man Group meets Solstice drum circle, but that just felt indulgent.

The band played all the hits, “Come Original” “Amber” and three from the new album — “Boom Shanka” “Five of Everything” and “Showdown” and they fit right in with the rest. With only time for one encore song — the radio staple “Down” — the band were in and then out, leaving the audience to ponder the state of “modern rock” as KJEE presents it. Verdict: a sound that’s stuck in place, spinning wheels.

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