The late and indisputably great Bradley Nowell of 90’s rock phenomenon Sublime was only less-than-a-year shy of being inducted into the infinite 27 Club. His fatal heroin overdose in 1996, however, did not seal the fate for his reggae/ska stylee that ascended the alternative scene into what could have been arguably—the new sound of the 90’s. The 28-year-old scat man and devout Deadhead was nothing short of captivating upon blistering stages of stamped out roaches and broken 40 ounces, constantly geared to rile up the already unruly crowds with his faithful Dalmatian, Lou Dog—the band’s iconic mascot for the music. From the speedy and heavy threads of his hardcore punk to the smooth and kinky reggae of Caress Me Down, Nowell subsequently left a colossal void to fill during a doomed era of resurrected bubble gum pop. Besides the Chili Peppers still spicing up the rock world, who could possibly measure up to Brad’s alluring intensity and original talent?
Sublime fans were forced to contend with a failed endeavor of “replacing” Brad when bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh recruited Opie Ortiz and other artists for their Long Beach Dub Allstars group. Their sophomore album Right Back proved to be a much more successful attempt than its predecessor, Wonders of the World, and also a more sincere tribute to Brad. And most importantly, as with any incarnation in the music industry, Ortiz did not try and imitate the renowned vocalist/guitarist.
With the successful touring of Badfish and other Sublime tribute bands throughout the years, it seemed that LBDA would be the final avatar of resurrecting the Long Beach, Cali sensation. Fans were appeased when granted faithful covers of the ’88 established trio’s rasta-fied punk, moshing to the memory of their prevalent ringleader.
As a devoted disciple of Sublime and their genre-fused flair, I became permanently wounded when I could not see them in the flesh before Brad’s premature demise (I had just turned 13 at the time). Now, in 2014, I was privileged to experience an adequate manifestation led by the very young, humble, and spirited Rome Ramirez. To be honest, when Sublime with Rome dropped their debut LP, Yours Truly three summers ago, I was skeptical of another go-around on behalf of Bud and Eric. Statistically, most fans will attest to that. After giving them my first listen last August via YouTube, I became instantly addicted to the Mary Jane shout out, Can You Feel It featuring Wiz Khalifa and Same Old Situation—both of which ignited the crowd during this very memorable Montclair, New Jersey show.
Standing tall and poised alongside drummer Josh Freese (Bud dropped out to be a father) and Mr. Eric Wilson, Rome was ready to amp up the venue following his phlegmatic entrance onto the stage.
After his customary SoCal stage greeting with Chicano slang and throwing up surfer signs (while enquiring the fans’ levels of toxicity), Ramirez broke the seal with a weighty version of Garden Grove, seguing into Wrong Way and saving What I Got (which would have been the following tune on the self-titled album) for an encore. Next, he energetically crooned a clean blend of Don’t Push and Johnny Butt, underlining Brad’s Bukowski/Kerouac prose that intoned the debauched hymns of his life in the LBC slums. The audience chanted every word with an almost ballistic delight, since Rome isn’t emulating Brad, but reviving his spirit—and that’s not always an easy thing to bring to light. Suffice to say, he performs with Brad’s extensive range of head-banging rock and steadied reggae, considering Yours Truly is lighter and a bit poppier than the original Sublime stlylee, noodling over his guitar as he strums the gentle rifts of Marley and Peter Tosh medleys. Meanwhile, Wilson is more than moving with his groovy and heavy bass line—as is Freese with the consistency and complexity of his rapid sticks. In the shadows, an unseen DJ relishes the SoCal/Jamaican fusion with spurts of electronic boom and pre-recorded horns, since at this show, the band had no opening act or any of their tour-mates present. Despite my own personal notions on the whole dancehall scene, their light use of electronics do not impede the original reggae or ska raptures…