Even with new singer, still Sublime moments
The list of bands that have replaced a singer and been successful commercially is long, from Genesis to Journey. Considerably shorter is the list of groups that have replaced a deceased lead singer and managed to please most of their previous fans.
Perhaps because singer-guitarist Brad Nowell died just as his infectious ska-rock trio, Sublime, was on the brink of breaking out in 1996, it’s less surprising that fans just seem happy to have any close-to-authentic Sublime back at all.
If any skeptics of new Sublime vocalist Rome Ramirez turned up to check out the reconstituted version of the group — dubbed Sublime With Rome out of legal necessity — Monday night at the House of Blues, they were in the minority of the sold-out audience. That audience would have drowned out any naysayers anyway, as they sang along to alt-radio staples like “Date Rape,’’ “What I Got,’’ and “Santeria,’’ with unadulterated euphoria. (Which isn’t to say that that euphoria was unassisted, given the steady smoke signals arising from various clusters in the club.)
The original Sublime rhythm section of drummer Bud Gaugh and bassist Eric Wilson showed the most important kind of respect to the audience during the 90-minute set by remaining dedicated to the heart and instrumental soul of the group’s music. The pair’s playing remains crisp and more complex than it’s given credit for, deftly blending dancehall, dub, ska, and reggae grooves with punk and rock energy and the insidiously catchy pop melodies sung by Rome. An auxiliary horn player/keyboardist was brought aboard to fill out the sounds of songs like the percolating “Wrong Way.’’
Rome proved a genial and poised-under-pressure presence. He sounds like Nowell — down to the vocal tics of the recordings — but threw off a sliver of his own flavor with a little more soul and huskiness. At this stage there is still dissonance in hearing someone else sing the personal story-song lyrics Nowell sometimes wrote. But unlike a tribute band, at least Sublime With Rome is tapped into those stories and has the potential to write more.
Openers Dirty Heads’ own lively mix of reggae, hip-hop, and rock made it clear that they were unabashed Sublime fans.