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Transmission
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Review Fri Aug 21 2015

Sublime with Rome at Northerly Island: Relaxing But Uninspiring

Unlike many of those in attendance last night at First Merit Bank Pavilion, the only cannabis I had was printed images on my socks. I hoped they, in addition to the pungent haze resting above the crowd, would get me in the proper mood to enjoy Sublime with Rome and their legion of summery musical guests. In the end, though the concert satisfied the masses of grown-up '90s kids hearkening for a return to the heyday of Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 and a few hours relaxing in the remnants of summer, I failed to find any new or deeper meaning in the band's music--and I don't think Bradley Nowell, Sublime's long-deceased lead singer, would have appreciated that.

I walked into First Merit Bank Pavilion about one-quarter of the way through Mickey Avalon's opening set of profane, trashy rap. As is usually the case with hypersexualized performers, I found it hard to take Avalon seriously--is his music satire? is he legitimately crazy?--but I found myself recognizing songs like "What Do You Say," featured in The Hangover, and "My Dick," which was just silly. Pepper came on next, and the three-piece's bro-stoner punk performed the essential function of preparing the audience for the main attraction. From where I was standing, guitarist Kaleo Wassman and bassist Bret Bollinger looked identical but for the color of their tanks, and they pumped out a benign mix of the laid-back strumming of their Hawaiian home and the thrashing skater music that has influenced them since they formed nineteen years ago. The highlight of their set was a reference to Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure--admittedly one of my favorite comedies, and perfectly chosen to fit the milieu of Pepper's set.

Whatever Pepper and Mickey Avalon lacked in musical intrigue, Rebelution more or less atoned for it. Much more firmly based in reggae than the previous two acts, the band rolled through nearly a solid hour of music without pause, keeping the tempo bouncy and the vibes good (in literal fashion, on their song "Good Vibes"). Singer/guitarist Eric Rachmany presented a soft, clean voice that bespoke beach grillouts, soothing the crowd as it nodded its collective head and bent its collective knees in time. But Rebelution's strength as a band lies in its instrumental prowess--when Rachmany quits the genre-typical off-beat staccato strumming and unleashes a Carlos Santana-esque solo, or when the trumpet of Zach Meyerowitz and saxophone of Khris Royal harmonize on funky riffs or play call-and response with Rachmany's pearly guitar tones, with bassist Marley D. Williams* and drummer Wesley Finley keeping an impeccable and powerful rhythm thumping in the background. The result was a seamless jam of funk-infused reggae that blended together and washed over the audience like a ceaseless Caribbean wave. And even the two songs that didn't fit this mold--Rachmany pulled out an acoustic Taylor guitar to play the ballad "Fade Away" and "Feeling Alright"--were highlights of the set.

After a short break during which a massive print of Sublime With Rome's Sirens album cover (featuring maybe the most garish '90s font ever created) was unraveled at the back of the stage, the headliners strolled in front of the legions of screaming fans and launched into "Date Rape," a song that probably could never have reached the mainstream if released today. Of course, most of Sublime's music probably wouldn't reach the mainstream today, as tastes have shifted away from the reggae-punk the band once created and aspects of their sound, such as the live DJ scratches on "Doin' Time" and "April 29, 1992," have aged liked vinegar. That's likely part of why I found all of the new material that SWR performed bland and uninspiring--it sounded precisely the same as Sublime circa 1996, and without growth to match the passage of time, a band can't move listeners in the present. Songs like "Sirens" and "Wherever You Go" come across as mere rehashes, and though the band performed them flawlessly, I couldn't get into them.

Another reason why Sublime with Rome failed to strike a chord with me was the "Rome" part of the band. Rome Ramirez is an excellent substitute for Bradley Nowell, no doubt: his voice, though slightly more delicate, still flurries with power and attitude, and he plays the guitar like John Frusciante when he takes the opportunity to solo, as he did quite well on "Pawn Shop." But alas, he is not Bradley Nowell, and though he paid vocal tribute to his predecessor during "What I Got" and sang through the set with all the earnestness you'd expect out of a longtime Sublime fan, it still sounded weird to hear him singing about Lou Dog and not practicing Santeria. The replacement of a lead singer is more often than not too much for a band to overcome without becoming a so-called "legacy act"--a relic of a bygone day that draws crowds mostly based on nostalgia--and Rome simply looked far too happy on stage to convince me that he embodied the gritty lyrics of Sublime's classics. Add to that the fact that the stage lighting placed nearly all of the focus on the lead singer and left bassist Eric Wilson, the only original member of Sublime remaining, in the shadows, and the performance would more accurately be defined as "Rome Plays Sublime," a tribute to or shadow of the original.

On a superficial level, the show did its job; the stoned audience danced with euphoria, all the greatest hits showed up in mint condition, and Rome brought a vibrant stage presence, highlighted by his playing through "Let's Go Get Stoned" with a lit cigarette (or joint?) in his mouth. But Sublime with Rome failed to recapture the magic it created in the '90s, and so the evening proved as mentally flaccid as the cannabis-tinted beach vacations to which the band's music is now almost exclusively confined.

*Incidentally, I met Williams in the crowd ten minutes before Rebelution's set, and am amazed that he could so quickly shift his focus into performing mode.

 
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Andrew Haffner / August 21, 2015 9:46 AM

Hey Zach, nice review

Dylan Jacobs / August 21, 2015 11:05 AM

Props to the Author for the well written article. I look forward to reading more by him!

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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