Will You See Sublime with Rome Without Bradley Nowell?
It can't be easy being the other members of Sublime in 2013. On a cynical -- but very real -- level, you reached your peak fame and earning power in 1996, at the moment your band's lead singer died and ensured you wouldn't reach it again. On an idealistic -- but very real -- level, you reached the peak of your artistic expression in 1996, at the moment your band's lead singer died etc., etc.
Then 14 years later, it's 2010 and every other '90s band -- some of them much less successful than Sublime -- is touring on old hits and making what has to be pretty good state fair money doing it, cynically, and reconnecting with fans who want to see the artists who spoke to them one more time, idealistically.
And even bands without their old lead singers, for various reasons, have found replacements, typically spot-on guys from YouTube cover bands. For whatever reasons, then, the two founding members of Sublime formed "Sublime with Rome," where Rome is a new lead singer and the compound name followed some legal action. Is that still Sublime? Will you go see them anyway?
That's just one of the when-is-a-band-not-a-band decisions you'll find yourself making over the rest of the year in Phoenix. Next week, The Monkees will come through with three original members but without the late Davy Jones -- which is, frankly, extremely impressive after nearly 50 years. Chicago, hitting Celebrity Theatre in August, has four founding members but no Peter Cetera.
Stone Temple Pilots is coming to the Marquee in late September, with new lead singer and Phoenix native Chester Bennington in tow. (Technically, they're Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington.)
Most fans, I think, run some simple calculations for situations like this:
1. How much do I want to see this band?
If the answer's "well, it'd be nice," and they've shed some important members, lots of people won't bother. But they'll also hesitate if they want to see a band too much -- if they love, say, Everclear so much that it would hurt to see a version of the band in which Art Alexakis is the only remaining founder.
The sweet spot, desire-wise, is something like a 7/10. You definitely want to hear "What I Got" and "Date Rape," but it's okay if it's a new singer, one original member of Sublime, and itinerant drummer extraordinaire Josh Freese.
Sublime does pretty well on this test -- they have a lot of hyper-devoted fans who might be turned off, which is a minus. But they were also all over the radio in the late '90s, engendering a bunch of casual fans who might go along with it if a friend makes the suggestion.
2. Is the face of the band still around?
This one, obviously, is rough for Sublime.
The face of Sublime, Bradley Nowell, only became a cult hero posthumously. The other two members, Bud Gaugh (who left shortly after the current reunion began) and Eric Wilson, were credited on the songwriting, but the words will always be associated with the guy who sang them. (The other band they're connected to, Long Beach Dub Allstars, is now touring without them.)
The current version of Sublime is -- as we mentioned earlier -- one part Sublime, one part With Rome, and one part . . . well, A Perfect Circle, along with nearly every other '80s or '90s mainstay that finds itself in need of a solid drummer.
3. Is this band doing something I can't get anywhere else?
Important Sublime consideration: Fratty, reggae-influenced pop has gotten way more socially conscious in the last 20 years. A song called "Date Rape" in 2013 would actually be titled "Trigger Warning This Song Is Named After D____ R____ 'Date Rape' Is the Name of It, Trigger Warning." The morally uplifting ending would not involve prison rape, either, if I had to guess.
So if you like that sort of thing -- if you're looking for Matisyahu to provide you with songs about girls reaching for his mushroom tip, and he's not obliging -- Sublime is just about all you've got.
4. Will I Take What I Can Get? This one is the wild card. Bands that have been around forever -- Chicago, for instance -- sometimes fail their fans' tests because the fans don't think they have to compromise. It could be because they had a ton of chances to see the full version of the band; it could be because they feel like they'll have more chances to see the reunited version.
But most Sublime fans outside California never really had a chance to see the Sublime live; one original member might be one more than they'd hoped for. A Beach Boys fan might have safely ignored Mike Love's tour, or even Brian Wilson's tour, but both of them together, with Bruce Johnston, Al Jardine, and David Marks?
Ultimately, though, I can't answer this particular question -- it seems like a pretty tenuous connection, but Sublime never really did it for me anyway. And if they never hit you on that level -- the level that keeps you looking for a chance to see whatever there is left to see -- there's no point chasing these reunions down, anyway.
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