Seeing a line-up of 311, Sublime With Rome, Cypress Hill, G. Love & Special Sauce, and Pennywise on a Sunday in July in 2013 would be like going to a concert in 1993 headlined by War, Grand Funk Railroad, and Three Dog Night. The 311 Unity Tour is a nineties-centric nostalgia package, that brings you back to a time when you couldn't be on the phone and the internet simultaneously.
While 311 and Cypress Hill's sets mostly consisted of greatest hits compilations of the tunes you knew and memorized from listening to on your Discman, they are also living bands comprised of the members from their peak years that are still recording new music.
The most interesting case study of the oldies phenomenon belonged to Sublime With Rome. The three piece came on to the stage as day turned to night. Formed out of the ashes of nineties favorites Sublime, they were ordered by the law to add "with Rome" to their name after lawsuits by the family of the original Sublime singer/guitarist Bradley Nowell. Nowell died in 1996 of a heroin overdose before the band's music blew up. Nowell was replaced with Rome Ramirez a chunky kid who was wearing a black tanktop reading "Maybe Maybe Not Maybe Fuck Yourself."
Right from the first song, "Date Rape," Rome's singing and guitar sounded more like Nowell than Nowell's live performances probably ever did. The voice and ska rhythms were rehearsed and crafted to perfection. At times, his voice strained due to enthusiasm and (perhaps) the cigarette he smoked during the latter portion of the set, but for the most part, he was a worthy musical doppelganger. But with only the bassist, Eric Wilson, (who made no connection or acknowledgement of the audience) representing the original Sublime, how was this any different from seeing a Sublime cover band?
When B-Real from Cypress Hill sang, "I Wanna Get High" we knew we were hearing directly from the mouth of the man who twenty years ago (at least) wanted to get high, so high. When Nick Hexum from 311 sang "All Mixed Up" you knew at one point in his life (even if it was a long time ago), he didn't know what to do. But when Rome sings the words "187 on a Motherfuckin' cop" it's jarring to realize he wasn't even alive for the date in the title of that song "April 29, 1992 (Miami)." Of course, Nowell's lyrics were more fictional narratives than personal tales from the heart, as it was unlikely he was part of the Rodney King riots or stuck the barrel of a gun down the throat of a guy named Sancho. Bands like Sublime and 311 always had authenticity issues anyway as they brought their reggae/gangster, rap/punk influences to suburbia, coupled with the whole debate from the nineties about the wrongness of getting too popular and going "mainstream."
To most of the audience, from the gray-haired guy in the NOFX shirt dancing two rows in front of me, to the twenty year old couple that offered me a puff of their joint, the issue of authenticity didn't matter. They were hearing "Santeria" and "Wrong Way," so why should they care when theatergoers don't complain when they go to see Hamlet and it's not performed by the original actors from the Globe Theatre? As our favorite songs age, this is an issue we will have to deal with. In the coming months, we can choose to see a band called Stone Temple Pilots play their songs without the original singer, or we can see the original singer Scott Weiland without the rest of his band. Is it a more authentic experience to see a 70-year old Paul McCartney sing songs he wrote a lifetime ago, or to attend Rain and see four actors portray the Beatles in a more Beatlesque fashion?
By the end of Sublime With Rome's set, they threw a monkey wrench into this whole line of thought when they went into a cover of "What Is And What Should Never Be." Can I now tell my friends I saw Led Zeppelin With Rome?