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Unity Tour says goodnight with 311’s drumline and Cypress Hill’s epic bong

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Frontman Nick Hexum and bassist P-Nut throw down during 311’s set at the Joint on August 4. It was the final show of the Unity Tour, which put 311 in a blender with Cypress Hill and G. Love & Special Sauce. The collective sauce was indeed special.
Photo: Erik Kabik / Retna

A few days after experiencing the sonic salsa of G. Love & Special Sauce , Cypress Hill and 311 at the Joint, I’m still thinking about the intense energy of the sets. Maybe it was because it was the last stop on their coast-to-coast, 23-show Unity Tour. Maybe it was the Vegas mystique. In any case, it was a night of crazy props, sick solos and sweat-soaked shirts. Some notable moments:

1. We walk into the Hard Rock behind some guys in black T-shirts printed with “Cypress Hillbillies” and, of course, “420.” The line to get into the show sucks, but I assure my friend that we’re missing an opening band neither one of us has probably heard of. That band turns out to be G. Love & Special Sauce, who I’ve seen live before and was really looking forward to. We catch the final seconds of the last song. Strike one.

2. Cypress Hill starts things off in classic fashion, asking who wants to get high. Apparently, the crowd does. Especially when they hear the first few bars of gritty bass in “Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That.” B-Real raps with flawless timing, sinking every singsong word into the deepest part of the groove. Sen Dog is right there with him, bobbing his head and spitting hard. It’s so good I listen to the song again hours later on YouTube, where a comment says: “One of the dopest beats of the era.”

3. A group of drunk-ass bros gets rowdy. Most of them are wearing flashing LED glasses that belong at EDC. One is tall, and he’s standing right in front of my 5-foot-nothing friend, spilling beer and swaying to block her every time she tries to see the stage. Appropriately, “How I Could Just Kill A Man” is playing. We move back to the next row, where another man drenches my friend with a drink. Strike two.

Tim Mahoney of 311.

Tim Mahoney of 311.

4. To the sides of the stage are Julio G and Eric Bobo, on turntables and drums. They’re monsters, one scratching so fast my ears can barely catch it all and the other hammering the living daylights out of some bongos. It’s cool to see the other guys in the band step back to give them the spotlight.

5. B-Real says they’re the “world’s No. 1 stoner band ever,” and he proves it with a joint the length of his forearm (making me wonder if the choice of venue had something to do with this) and a bong taller than he is named “Excalibur” (winner of the 22nd HighTimes Cup in Amsterdam). My friend, a dewy-eyed girl from Iowa, asks if the police are on their way. I’m too busy to answer, because the hits are dropping fast: “Tequila Sunrise,” “Insane in the Membrane,” “Dr. Greenthumb” and a thrilling final number that reminds me why I love “(Rock) Superstar.”

6. It’s a hard act to follow, but 311 gets a huge response from the crowd as Nick Hexum wades into “Omaha Stylee,” giving a nod to the band’s hometown.

7. Hexum is 43, but he looks 20. His voice has always had an unvarnished quality, and he demonstrates his chops in the precision of his lyrics and the various guitars he plays, holding his own with Tim Mahoney and Aaron "P-Nut" Wills. On Twitter, P-Nut says, “I manipulate the bass for 311” (and shares his amazement at how much Gouda cheese can bounce). But it looks and sounds more like love making to me. He’s really, really good.

8. “Champagne” is hypnotic, and I take a moment to focus on the lyrics: “I can’t be around to pick up your bags and your debts/She wants to love me with threats/Not taking chances, I’m hedging my bets.” It’s kinda made for Vegas. The whole place sings along to “Beautiful Disaster,” especially the line about how some people really suck. But the mood isn't hateful. It’s jubilant. One of the bros spanks the air with enthusiasm, ripping his shirt off and swinging it around until a bouncer lays down the law. When his back is turned, the bro gives The Man the raspberry.

SA Martinez of 311.

SA Martinez of 311.

9. SA Martinez makes a case for why fans should see live shows. During his vocals, he covers the entire stage with explosive movement, stomping and bouncing until his light blue button-up is totally soaked. He’s giving everything he has to this crowd, every song.

10. Hexum’s voice sounds fully warm on “Wild Nights,” a nostalgic track that feels right, considering this band has been touring for 11 summers in a row. Their 11th studio album will drop on 311 Day, March 11, 2014. But they don’t spend much time plugging it. Instead, they form a makeshift drumline for a Stomp-like interlude. Sticks fly from musician to musician and then to the audience. I'll bet none of them end up on eBay.

11. I want to stay to the end, because I know they’re going to play “Amber.” But I just can’t hang. My back is killing me from jumping around in heeled boots. I have to work in the morning. The usual. On Monday, I listen to the song on YouTube and scroll the comments. “Saw this live last night … most amazing experience of my life,” one says. I just knew there would be a strike three.

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Erin got her first newspaper job in 2002 thanks to a campfire story about Bigfoot. In her award-winning work for ...

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