With every sound check of the kick drum, the palpable excitement in the sold out Riviera Theater continued to build. After listening to openers Del Mar and Dirty Heads, fans anxiously awaited the headline act with a certain nervousness. This was most likely the first time any of them would hear a song from the Sublime catalog played by its original members. And it would be the first time any of them heard the latest incarnation of Sublime, now called Sublime With Rome, with new singer and guitarist Rome Ramirez.
As the lights in the venue dimmed and the band made its way out to the stage, the crowd roared with applause. With no introduction, the band ripped into the opening chords of the infamous “Date Rape” and the audience exploded. 14 years of waiting to hear the ultimate party band culminated in this moment. The crowd sang along word for word, at times louder than the band. Any worries that Rome would do any injustice to the music written and recorded by original Sublime frontman Bradley Nowell were shaken as the band plowed through hit after hit. There was little banter between songs, which may be due in part to the fact that Rome is still green when it comes to touring, or because drummer Bud Gaugh and bassist Eric Wilson wanted to play as many songs in their set as they could. This was after all the first tour they’ve been on (as Sublime) since the release of their major label debut and final album, Sublime, and the heroin overdose of Nowell.
Nowell was far from forgotten throughout the night. At one point, an inflatable dalmatian emerged from the pit, an homage to Nowell’s longtime canine companion Louie, or Lou Dog as loyal Sublime listeners know him. While singing “Don’t Push”, Rome grabbed the dog and put him onstage, and as Wilson ended his bass solo mid-song, the band transitioned into “Garden Grove”. As Rome sang “We took this trip to Garden Grove/It smelt like Lou Dog inside the van,” you almost forgot that he wasn’t really there, that Louie wasn’t really his dog. He had his own unique sound, but at times, if you closed your eyes, it was as if you had been transported to a backyard Long Beach party in 1996. Although his voice didn’t quite match the gruff of Nowell’s during the faster punk songs, Rome did a decent job of sounding like Nowell without sounding like an imitation.
His ability to sound like Nowell was at times stirring, particularly during “Badfish,” a song which many fans interpret as a song about Nowell wanting to stop using heroin. The stage around him was dark, save for an overhead spotlight. With no lighting from the front, the audience could only make out a silhouette of someone playing a guitar, singing “Lord knows I’m weak/Won’t somebody get me off of this reef.” It was as if Nowell was speaking through Rome from the heavens, finally able to enjoy the success of the self-titled album. Bradley, Bud, Eric, and now Rome: Look at all the love you’ve found.