Sublime Celebrates 25th Anniversary with ’3-Ring Circus’ CD/DVD

Jon Wiederhorn
Stop The Presses! (NEW)

by Jon Wiederhorn

For those of us old enough to remember the golden days of alternative rock, 2013 marks the 25th anniversary of the formation of Sublime — the Long Beach, California-based dub-rock band whose 1996 self-titled major label debut (third studio album in total) was certified six times platinum.

To celebrate the quarter century that has passed since Sublime started rocking, Ume, Geffen, Gasoline Alley and Skunk Records have joined forces to release the CD and DVD package 3-Ring Circus: Live at the Palace. The 27-song set was recorded October 21, 1995 by Gary Davis on a single camera and features more than 78 minutes of material, including the singles "Date Rape," "Badfish," and "40 Oz To Freedom."

"The 3 Ring Circus show was us with the Wesley Willis Fiasco and Lords of Brooklyn," Sublime's drummer Bud Gaugh told Yahoo! Music. "We ran into these guys on tour and played a show with each of them separately, so we thought, 'Wow, wouldn’t it be cool if we could get all three bands together?' It was a homecoming for us. We had been out on the road for a while and then we were bringing these new friends back to our home to let our old friends enjoy the music, too."

Sublime used to hire friends to shoot their rehearsals and shows, but Gaugh — who left the spin-off group Sublime With Rome in December, 2011 to spend more time with his family — was unaware until recently that the 1995 Palace show existed. He was happily surprised when his manager sent him the footage, and once he watched it he was blown away.

"I saw the crowd and I could see friends I don’t talk to anymore and I lost touch with because I moved or they moved," he said. "Then the lights go off and it goes black. The anticipation. It brought me right back there in that moment. And then we start playing, and boom! Some of the songs are so high energy. 'House of Suffering' is a million BPMs. It’s just in your face. There were so many cool things about that night that I had kind of forgotten about because we were having fun."

In retrospect, the nostalgia is bittersweet. Sublime’s frontman Bradley Nowell died of a heroin overdose on May 25, 1996, about seven months after the DVD show was recorded and two months before Sublime came out.

When Gaugh thinks back to shows Sublime did with Nowell, he fondly remembers being part of an onstage experience — a party of improvisation, groove and fun that sometimes lasted for hours. "We loved to play long sets," he said. "We’d just start breaking loose after three or four songs. It was great to have the ability to freestyle and do whatever we wanted to do musically. These days you go to clubs and see new bands, you get their all, but you only get their all for 30 minutes if you're lucky. They just run two or three bands in and out. Boom. Gotta have time for the DJ to play afterwards. Everybody wants to dance."

Sometimes fans at Sublime’s shows got too excited. This July 4 will mark the 25th anniversary since the band's first official show, sometimes referred to as the "Peninsula Riot."

"Brad’s dad had a place down on the Peninsula in Long Beach and there was always a big Fourth of July party down there," recalled Gaugh. "This guy was having a party. He had some kegs and he had some people in front of his house at the end of a cul-de-sac right on the Bay side. We said, 'Hey, mind if we set up and play? We’re a band.' And he said, 'Well, what do you sound like?' And we said, 'We’re reggae.' And he’s like, 'Right on!' This guy’s, like, a 65 -year-old grandfather and he had his kids and his kids' kids there. We started playing and we had developed quite a good sized crowd, so the cops come down and shut us down. We moved the party down the street. And then the police came in [again] and tried to run everybody out. There was a big clash between the people that wanted to have fun and the enemies of fun, the Long Beach Police Department. Someone threw a rock or a bottle and it just got ugly from there. Plenty of people got arrested, but none of us."

Glancing over his shoulder at the early days of Sublime sometimes gets Gaugh excited, but it can also make him wistful because he knows the magic the band had with Nowell can never be adequately captured, even on a DVD. "The what-ifs always get you," he said, then paused. "It’s a wonder. I sat down and watched this DVD and I was flooded with overwhelming emotion. I had to sit there, stop and think. And then I kept playing it and I brightened up. It’s like, why would you hold onto that? If it’s that special to you, why wouldn't you want to share it with everyone else?"

As much as he ultimately enjoys the memories and the platinum plaques that line the walls of his home, Gaugh has moved on. These days, he spends much of his time building custom cars and bikes and he’s working on new music with the surf-punk band Del Mar and his new group Phil & the Blanks, which he formed with members of SexRat. "They’re based in Sacramento and I’m in Reno so we meet in Tahoe," Gaugh said. "The band sounds like a merge between Del Mar and SexRat, and we’re getting ready to record an album at the end of the summer."

Despite leaving Sublime With Rome, Gaugh has kept the peace with Sublime bassist Eric Wilson. "We’re cool, man," Gaugh said. "I call him sometimes, but he never answers his phone. I never leave a message because his answering machine has a 5-minute-long clip of whatever television show he's watching at the time. But when he comes to town we hook up. He rode his bike with his girlfriend over to the shop and checked it out and saw what I was working on. He can do his thing and as long as his thing don’t get on my thing, I’m fine. It’s like, just don't get your peanut butter in my chocolate, man."