Sublime With Rome
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
July 21, 2015
When you pull up a set list for Sublime With Rome, their songs — or the ones played and recorded with the late Bradley Nowell, anyway — are listed as Sublime covers. It's strange to see each song listed listed that way at least initially. They are, after all, using the name and the old music of Sublime (albeit with Rome), and are certainly styling themselves after the original Long Beach band. But you know what? The "Sublime cover" tag isn't wrong.
This band is, in effect, a cover band, no matter their name or roots. Nowell's untimely death in 1996 pretty much guaranteed it would be. As the heart, soul, and musical genius behind the band, he left the band with a gaping hole when he OD'd, one that couldn't easily be plugged by a stand-in.
Tuesday night proved it. Opening with "April 29,1992," at first glance — or listen, rather — Rome Ramirez, the band's new-ish front man, could easily pass for Nowell. His voice, styled after Nowell's trademark SoCal sound, sounds damn near exactly what Bradley sounded like on 40 Oz to Freedom. His inflection, the chilled-out vibe — it's all Nowell. And that's part of the problem. You can't just slap a copycat replacement up there and call it Sublime.
Especially given the departures of all but one OG Sublime member. Founding member and drummer Bud Gaugh left in 2011, later saying he regrets using the Sublime name in the new iteration, so the only man left in SWR from the original band is bassist Eric Wilson. And that's fine — Wilson has a right to use Sublime's music. But is this the way to use it?
Eh, not if last night was any indicator. Following that ol' riot song, they jumped into "Date Rape." Not even going to touch on the song's subject matter, but I will say that last night it was awkward, and Rome didn't quite pull that one off. Perhaps Nowell pulled it off because of his trademark ability to jump from style to style, but it ain't easy to replicate.
Here's the part where I give you my disclaimer: No, I am not a Sublime purist by any means, and I am totally, completely fine with bands picking up the pace where they left off when tragedy happens, as it did in this case. But...you know. Usually those bands change it up; they find new styles, new roots, new sounds to move forward. And this time, they're still completely touring off of the album that made Nowell a patron saint for reggae-rock.
And they really are still touring off that album. "Two Joints," a "Garden Grove" mashup, and "Wrong Way" all followed, hurled at us with the same frenetic pace of 40 oz. Almost every song they played was from that record or that other eponymous album, Sublime, with a Fishbone cover or some other band's song thrown in here or there for good measure. Which, again, is fine — but they have albums past the Nowell era. Relying so heavily on the old, old material makes them seem either a) teetering on obscurity; or b) stuck in reverse. It's probably a mixture of both.
The night's openers, however, seem to grasp a little bit more of what it means to stay relevant. Pepper and Rebelution — both pop-reggae-rock amalgams like Sublime (whom both credit as a key influence) — were both solid. The horns, the smooth reggae sound, and that love of the ganja; it all worked. Times two, no less. (We won't even go into the fact that Mickey Avalon is the early opener of the night. It's just confusing.)
But to be fair, Pepper and Rebelution aren't fighting against a legacy they can't, or more likely won't, overcome. Those bands didn't influence an entire genre of music, and they're free to make their own mark on suburban kids everywhere, who blare their music as they smog out their parents' cars after school. (No, they do. They were all there last night, and one of them passed out in my seat while I was standing. Thanks for that.)
And that's just not the case with SWR. At some point, no. It's not honoring a legacy — Nowell's legacy. It's merely ripping off his sound, and his style, which is okay if you're calling it what it is: a tribute or cover band. But if you're calling it Sublime — which they are, Sublime with Rome — well, it probably deserves more.
Personal Bias: Gah. Just like every other high-school kid on the planet in the '90s, Sublime was my mufuckin' weed-smokin' jam. We even had rolling papers printed with 420. We were that cool.
The Crowd: White, suburban high-schoolers. Which, by the way, are the very worst fans. You heard me.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Fucking Houston bitch, whoooo!" — The sister of the girl who passed out in my seat and then awoke in a drunken(?) stupor (tough call) and proceeded to try a selfie with me, and then rub on me. She settled for humping the chair instead.
Random Notebook Dump: The front man for Rebelution looks just like Aziz Ansari. That is not terribly easy to ignore. Aziz Ansari busting out some smooth reggae? Think about it.