On November 21st, the drafty F Shed in Syracuse was warmed by the sounds of SoCal reggae-rock band Sublime with Rome. A new incarnation of the seminal ‘90s group with frontman Rome Ramirez proved that the songs penned by the late original singer, Bradley Nowell, are still as relevant today as they were twenty years ago.
Nowell’s shoes aren’t easy to fill. He was the soul of Sublime, a band that he formed with bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh in 1988. After his untimely passing in 1996 (the same year that Sublime’s self-titled album was released), the group dissolved. That is, until 2009 when Wilson and Gaugh resurrected the name amid lawsuits from Nowell’s estate against them. Ramirez, who was only 20 at the time, was asked to be the new lead singer and guitarist.
Sublime with Rome in 2015 is a different band than it was six years ago. They now have two studio albums to their name though Gaugh is no longer a member (citing that he felt wrong using the Sublime name in any way).
As someone who loves the original group, I’m torn. I see where both parties are coming from on this whole band name debacle. Sublime without Bradley isn’t Sublime. Why not just change the name of the group, especially if they’re making new music anyway? But on the other hand, what’s wrong with honoring the band that came before, and continuing to play the same songs with a new voice interpreting Nowell’s lyrics?
But for this show, the audience wasn’t preoccupied with these questions. The crowd became electrified as the band took the stage at 9 p.m.
Opening with solid deeper cuts “Get Ready” and “Scarlet Begonias” back-to-back proved that the band wasn’t there to only play their best-known songs. They continued with the hyperactive “Date Rape” and had everyone’s attention even if they happened to drift off during Rome’s hazy guitar outro on “Begonias.”
Rome’s tasteful guitar solo showed how this new version of Sublime is adding to the original group’s work and not solely capitalizing on it. They honor the band’s legacy while still exploring their own sound.
Rome tries to avoid any comparisons to the former frontman as he’s noticeably more polished and boasts vocals more suited for pop music compared to his predecessor. While the punky rawness employed by Nowell is missed, Rome knows how to turn on the grit when necessary like during the band’s cover of Fishbone’s “Skankin’ To The Beat” or “Greatest Hits.”
Stalwart bassist Eric Wilson was in top form, playing some of his best grooves from the Sublime discography. I find Wilson to be one of the most distinctive bassists of his era (or at least in the West Coast scene he’s from). After all, a song like “April 29th, 1992 (Miami)” would be nothing without that pulsing thump behind it.
Rounding out the rhythm section was Josh Freese, a force to be reckoned with behind the drum set. The versatile Freese was able to switch from a slow-burning reggae shuffle to a blasting punk beat at a moment’s notice. At one point, he even sipped from a red solo cup all while keeping the heart of the band pounding with his one available arm.
Apart from the core rock instruments, the band brought along LDontheCut, a DJ manning the turntables for more scratch and sample heavy songs (“Doin’ Time”, “Let’s Go Get Stoned”). While this was a nice addition, it was usually hard to hear the producer’s input over the power trio.
The set as a whole relied more on classic favorites (“Badfish”, “40 Oz. To Freedom”), but newer singles (“Wherever You Go”, “Panic”) made appearances. Rome and Co. wound their way in and out of the songs, playing over 20 tracks for just over an hour.
As the set got closer to its finale, the band played the staple “What I Got” and the ensuing singalong would have delighted Nowell. When the familiar opening guitar line of “Santeria” rang through the Shed signaling the end of the show, the crowd sang just as loud as Rome. It’s impossible to not scream along to that iconic opening line.
What I’ve come to realize is that Sublime with Rome won’t ever be the original Sublime, and that’s okay. What they are, however, is a celebration of one of the best rock bands of the ‘90s.