Long Beach Dub Allstars Simply Less Than Sublime
A Mixed Legacy and a Dearth of Original Music Plagues The Long Beach Dub Allstars, Sublime’s Fallout
Okay, I’ll admit it. I like Sublime, a band that unfortunately only got popular a la Blind Mellon, when singer Brad Nowell died of a drug overdose. On my life’s to-do list was seeing Sublime live, but since that was obviously impossible, I was moderately excited when I heard that Long Beach Dub Allstars, Sublime with a new singer, was playing in Boston. I figured I’d pretend I was a legitimate music reviewer, get free tickets, and check them out.
Maybe my expectations were too high, maybe I was jaded by the “they-used-to-be-good” syndrome (an attitude I get accused of having pretty often).
The evening didn’t start out too well. I looked around the Avalon Ballroom, not one of my favorite clubs to begin with, and noticed that they had redecorated. Was that a barn behind the stage? Leaves hanging from the ceiling? I didn’t get it.
Then the show began with some white guy trying to sing dance hall style reggae and failing miserably. Thankfully, I arrived a few minutes late, and didn’t catch his name.
The only things he could say to get any sort of response at all out of an otherwise lackluster crowd was something about “getting those terrorists before they get us,” and a muted “Go Yankees” right before he got off stage.
LBDA finally came on, and I enjoyed myself for awhile. I even got lost in the rhythm a few times. The contact high from all the pot that members of the audience were smoking helped a little, and I started to remember what a great band Sublime had been. So what if their new singer wasn’t quite as good? It was still fun.
Eric Wilson and Brad Gaugh, the two remaining original members of the band, were worth seeing live finally (even a full five years after Brad died), and they produced handily mixed punk rock and reggae rhythms like I expected. The show started off on a good foot with “Scarlet Begonias,” a Sublime cover of a Grateful Dead song, which segued nicely into a retrospective of other Sublime songs, mostly off 40 Oz. To Freedom.
Not everything they did was successful. To get the crowd excited, the band did an instrumental version of “Santeria,” and hung a microphone in the crowd so everyone could sing along. It didn’t exactly tweak my interest to listen to a bunch of drunk college kids try to remember the lyrics to a song that even my mother liked when Brad sang it.
Another misstep was when Opie Ortiz, Brad’s replacement, draped a flag around himself for the last song. The song was based on the Rodney King riots of April 29, 1992, presumably a low point in American history. Had the band totally missed the context? What does an American flag have to do with burning down stores and killing cops? And this coming from a group of obviously well-off white folks? A little contrived.
But musically, I think LBDA’s biggest mistake wasn’t what they did badly, but what they didn’t do enough of -- play their own songs. Even with two of the original members of Sublime, the Allstars have had plenty of time to come up with new stuff, and they have. So why didn’t they play them?
I can’t tell if it’s that they lost the spark after Brad died, or if punk rock has finally kicked the bucket (a clichÉ that has been going around since before Sublime was around). But whatever it was, I enjoyed listening to Sublime enough that I almost forgot I was watching the Long Beach Dub Allstars and that they really hadn’t written that many good songs of their own.
I think it’s time for them to go the way the Foo Fighters and all the other bands-without-their-lead-singer should have gone a long time ago. Sublime’s musical moment has come and gone just like grunge rock. Time to grow up and get real jobs.