A person can generally tell when theirs is not the prevailing opinion, whether this is founded on subtle, implicit cues or an overt majority makes this clear. What I’m trying to say is that I’ve never really been a Sublime fan. Truthfully I have actively despised them for as long as I can remember. Their brand of poppy ska-punk laced with periodic outbursts of reggae made me cringe about as much as their fedora-hat sporting, tweaky swastika-dance-stance fans did. The trouble being, the overwhelming majority of people I associate with are infatuated with this band. So I thought it pertinent thus, albeit after a few beers, to explore the problem. And what better place than a Sublime tribute show?
Friday afternoon I board a train filled with loud, obnoxious American tourists and battle fierce winds up Long Street on my way to the pre-drinks meet. The violent weather blows a friend down the road on his way to the show and the sun is yet to set behind the mountain. Sceptically I make my way towards the Mercury, the show is well hyped considering it’s a repeat of last year, a carbon copy, almost, of a show that sold out in 45 minutes and pushed The Mercury beyond capacity. It is evident that this year would yield a similar response as we reached the crest of the grassy knoll and witnessed the line outside reach almost to the end of the road.
After building up some Dutch courage at the bar next door the night is approached cautiously, I strike up a conversation with contributing artist and long time friend Matt Willis, who tries to explain that Sublime is adequately compared to Nirvana in scope and impact. I haven’t been a Nirvana fan since high school, but Cobain deserves a mention in the music history books and so apparently does Bradley Nowell, lead singer and songwriter of Sublime. Nowell released 3 infamous albums (among other, less well known tracks) with the band, before dying of a heroin overdose at the age of 28. These 3 albums, according to Matt, have become the cornerstone of popular ska-reggae in our time.
We amble upstairs to the main bar as I light a cigarette and a girl who looks to be about 16 rushes up to us bouncing with excitement. “I have three joints in this pocket” she slaps her thigh mid bounce “and three in this pocket, I’m so exited!” She repeats the action to indicate clearly where her pockets are. The energy inside is palpable and I make my way to the stage stopping only to grab a drink as the band tunes up. The show is co-ordinated so as to have different musicians from varying bands playing together as a group at various times, with a fair amount of line up changes during the 3 main sets and major lineup changes happening between the sets. Over 25 musicians by my count, members from amongst others Captain Stu, Peachy Keen, Half Price and The Rudimentals share the stage this evening.
The first song is ‘Smoke Two Joints’ and the pent up energy and enthusiasm of the crowd now spills over into a frenzied sing along. There is very little I can say about the musicianship at this point besides that it is flawless. The massive super-group have the full attention of the crowd, who lap up every song in the first set. Last year, Mahala published this review and reading it now will give you a pretty clear idea of how the show was received this year. In short; fucking brilliantly.
Full, well executed brass lines dominate the second set, the flops I notice are probably due to an over critical attitude and the crowd hardly seem to notice a missed beat here or an off note there and I must admit to bopping along to a few of the songs myself. A girl-fight kicks off to the left of the throbbing mass of sweaty bodies reeling in front of the stage and shortly after another girl gets her head drenched in Brutal Fruit. As seems only wholly appropriate; weed is disseminated through the crowd from unseen, benevolent sources, a few drags later and my spirits turn from those of a partial if interested observer to complete immersion in the music, relaxed and with a dopey smile, I catch glimpses from people as if
to say: “You see?!”.
There is a break between sets and I struggle through the seething masses towards the bathrooms and on my return grab a few more drinks, genuinely excited to hear what is to follow. From here everything descends into a blurry mix of power chords, epic guitar solos, spectacular female vocals and solid bass lines, the kind of musical experience I would imagine people have on high doses of psychedelic drugs at the trance parties people in this city are so fond of. The point is utter destruction of the self and total identification with the music, a sacrifice well worth making on this occasion as the guardians of the crowd take us on a musical journey, a path well laid out by Sublime so many years before.
It is really beyond my scope and knowledge of Sublime to comment on whether this was a fitting tribute. I can certainly say, however, that the show was a raging success judging by the reactions and emotions of everyone in attendance and the fact that tickets were fast selling out for a repeat performance the following night.
You probably still won’t find me downloading a Sublime album anytime soon, but this show was only preaching to the converted anyway. To me the true heroes of the night were the musicians, not the music. The individuals who braved a logistical minefield and came out unscathed and smiling at the other end. Fedoras off to you guys.
*All images © Vetman Design and Photography.