Long Beach Shortbus, Lion’s Den, New York, NY-4/29
Sublime should have been a jamband. Sure, Bradley Nowell's famed trio cut their chops on the southern California skate circuit, rubbing elbows with No Doubt but Sublime were always too scattered for ska. Playing a party mix of rock, reggae, punk, and psychedelia, Sublime blends styles like the best jam-act around, jumping between genres as if they were fleeting thoughts. Known for high energy, often interactive, performances, Sublime amassed a cult-like following during their short touring tenure and continues to feed their fans a never-ending stream of B-sides, bootlegs, and live releases long after Nowell's untimely demise. So it makes sense that Sublime's afterlife experience is strangely similar to the Other Ones.
Overdosing on the eve of Sublime's Billboard breakthrough, Nowell left his band mates with a genuine hit, yet without a means to interpret their songs on stage. So, bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh quickly scrapped together the Long Beach Dub Allstars, a loose collection of friends and neighbors that kept Sublime's songs on the road for over five years. Like early versions of the Other Ones, Wilson and Gaugh also found a front man that recaptured the feel of their fallen star, if not his identical sound. RAS-1 played like Nowell, partied like Nowell, and managed to rally his audience like Nowell, falling somewhere between musician and entertainer. But, like the remaining members of the Dead, internal problems eventually split Wilson and Gaugh, leaving the group's catalogue somewhat stagnant. That is until Wilson and RAS-1 got around to organizing Long Beach Shortbus last summer.
Standing outside the Greenwich Village club's groovy exterior, one could also utter the phrase Shakedown Street without turning heads. With the New York City's cigarette ban in full effect, Shortbus' intimate audience spilled onto Sullivan St before, during, and after Shortbus' performance. Blurry eyed, the young, hip-crowd scarffed down burritos from a variety of local outdoor vendors, taking full advantage of New York's unusually warm weather. Swapping stories about Sublime, Nowell, and the mysterious breakup of Long Beach Allstars, this crowd gathered to celebrate a band's past, as much as they came to witness their performance.
Like their predecessor's the Long Beach Dub Allstars, Shortbus mixes original compositions with Sublime staples. Also like the Dub Allstars, Shortbus' mostly collegiate audience came to hear Sublimes' classic cuts, singing along to songs they never had a chance to really hear. Along with Dave Matthews' Crash, Sublime's self-titled album is likely the most owned audio release from the 1990s among college students. Musically, Shortbus' style is actually more akin to Sublime than the Allstars. While the Allstars bloated Sublime's sound with horns, DJS, and a wall of guitars, Shortbus is a trim quartet. Led by RAS-1's guitar and vocals, Shortbus ran through their repertoire with Sublime speed, tossing around pieces of songs like an extended jam-band medley. Like a college-house party, beer cups bounced up and down alongside the crowd, recapturing the party spirit at Sublime's heart.
Of Shortbus' new material, the relaxed "Take is Slow" worked best, building upon a groovy reggae beat set by Wilson's bass. While not traditional jams per say, Shortbus conducted their shows with a hippie-rock mentality. Focusing more on each song's vibe than its exact pronouncement, Shortbus allowed their groove to guide the show. Mixing a few head-banger cuts with So-Cal staples like "What I Got," Shortbus played an up-tempo set, which fit well in a bar setting. Dedicating the first forty-five minutes of their set to Dub Allstars and more recent material, Shortbus seemed to lose their crowd early on with new tracks like "California Grace," but brought their audience back with a healthy dose of Sublime material. Starting with a cover of the Grateful Dead's "Scarlet Begonias," first interpreted on Sublime's 40 Oz. to Freedom, Shortbus segued into an extended medley that included much of that album. Twelve years old,40 Oz. to Freedom fit Shortbus's show not because it's the group's best material, but because it was born and bred in a club setting. With almost every song having references to sex, smoke, and sloppy drunk behavior, Shortbus reminded their audience that, at heart, Sublime was a group of silly punks.
In some ways, Sublime is the missing link between jam-rock and rap-metal. Tossing, light-spoken raps on top of heady solos, Sublime fit snugly between Dispatch and O.A.R and Incubus. If Sublime surfaced only a few years later, it's interesting to question whether or not the group would have been marketed on jam-band bills. Perhaps it would have suited Sublime better, but not during their radio heyday, but now, when Shortbus is searching for a new, loyal audience.