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November 27, 2014

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Photos: 311, and especially Cypress Hill, bask in the spotlight of the Joint

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Erik Kabik/Retna/ErikKabik.com

311 performs at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel on Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013.

311 at the Joint: 8/4/13

311 frontman Nick Hexum performs at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel on Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013. Launch slideshow »

311 at Rehab at Hard Rock Hotel

311 performs at Rehab at the Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas on Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Not one but two songs from 311’s most commercially successful album go out of their way to curse the “naysayers.” The band played neither of those cuts from 1995’s self-titled record, affectionately referred to as the blue album by their legions of fans, during Sunday night’s concert at the Joint.

They didn’t need to; the message got across anyway. Approaching their 25th year as a band, 311 have rendered all doubters irrelevant. Above all else, the longevity of 311’s unique brand of genre-fusing, cannabis-caroling mischief can be attributed to the attention their show commands.

Unlike so many cell phone-plagued experiences in the current age of live music, few in attendance at the Hard Rock Hotel so much as fired off a text message or refreshed their Twitter feed Sunday.

Even the bathrooms and beer lines were nearly empty during 311’s 90-minute set. This comes as no surprise for a band whose fan base craves live performances enough to justify a biennial Caribbean cruise and an official website selling audio and video downloads of tour stops.

Knowing Sunday’s show was the last date on the 2013 Unity Tour and potentially the final act until next year’s 311 Day — held on March 11, get it? — social media revealed that devotees traveled across the country for the show.

There’s a level of trust that 311 will always make efforts to be in attendance worthwhile. By switching up their set list on a nightly basis, no two shows are identical. 311 drew heavily from the aforementioned self-titled offering and 1994’s “Grassroots” for material in their first Las Vegas appearance in 17 months.

Arguably the band’s two finest albums, they played five songs apiece off each.

Included in that group were rarely heard numbers “DLMD” and “Loco” that got fans showing off their cotillion at different points of the 22-song set. The band didn’t venture far into their last decade of so-so recordings, playing only a total of three songs from the last four albums.

But when they did, fans — including many decked out in past 311 concert T-shirts — responded all the same. Friends watching from the back of the floor scaled railings and then skipped back and forth for 10 yards when 311 broke into a rendition of “Wild Nights” off their latest release, 2011’s “Universal Pulse.”

The energy of the crowd at a 311 show might come off as the same as it was a decade or two ago, but the band has wisely calmed down a notch. With the five members now in their 40s, 311’s stage presence is no longer a constant ball of motion.

Bassist Aaron “P-Nut” Willis specifically stood stationary Sunday, in stark contrast to his demeanor around the turn of the century. The exception is vocalist and turntablist S.A. Martinez, who stayed as hyperactive as ever by hopping around to every part of the stage.

Drenched in sweat, Martinez’s light-blue shirt had turned navy by the time 311 broke into its seventh song. That was “Homebrew,” the first track off “Grassroots,” and one of the performance’s obvious highlights, along with the extended drum solo accompanying “Applied Science” and 22-year-old encore fodder “Feels So Good.”

“Feels So Good” is one of several songs from 311’s older catalog to feature at least one mention of herbal gratitude, an over-puffing theme of the Unity Tour.

Openers G. Love & Special Sauce most endeared themselves to the audience when frontman Garrett Dutton shared a story midway through the set.

G. Love recounted smoking his way from Reno to Las Vegas on a road trip before green spotlights engulfed the stage to usher in a song titled, “Who’s Got the Weed.”

Direct supporters Cypress Hill were quicker to the point. The ’90s rap superstars and self-anointed world’s No. 1 stoner band yelled out, as they walked onstage, “Who came here to get high with Cypress Hill?”

Living up to the reputation, the band smoked out of a 7-foot bong and a joint twice the size of a microphone while tearing through 13 songs. The crowd rewarded the antics with nonstop hands waving toward the air, hips inching close to the ground and, of course, clouds of smoke lifting to the rafters.

Vocalists B-Real and Sen Dog made use of their 24 years of familiarity by feeding off each other during crowd-pleasers like “Insane in the Membrane,” “How I Could Just Kill a Man” and closer “(Rock) Superstar.”

Cypress Hill’s performance rivaled the one supplied by 311 minutes later. And that’s not naysaying.

Case Keefer is a sports reporter at the Las Vegas Sun.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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