Blocks away from the Aztec Theatre, was quiet. A trio paid for parking and checked for tickets. “You going to Sublime?” Three grins. “Yea, man!” Never mind that Sublime hasn’t been around for some twenty years. Badfish is in town. And where Badfish go, Sublime lives. It was about 7:30 and the Aztec lobby was already milling with people. The bathroom already reeked like weed. People were ready for the main event, but Badfish weren’t the only act – they brought some friends. At 8, things got rolling with Full Service, a rock quartet from Austin, TX. They treated us with their first-ever acoustic performance. “Has anyone here seen Full Service before?” asked guitarist Tim “Bonesaw” Kepner. The response was slight, but everyone there was a potential fan. The earthy vibe they established surely made a few. An hour later, the energy bumped up a few notches with Fayuca – a Latin reggae/rock infusion from Phoenix, AZ, who have been touring with Badfish for some time. “We’ve been friends with Badfish for years now,” said Fayuca frontman Gabo. They are friendly enough to tour together, and are even on a horn-player- sharing basis, as we would see during both group’s sets. And as Badfish grows, so does Fayuca – from playing 200 seaters to 2,000 seaters. “It’s great to get that kind of exposure,” said Gabo, “and what better band than a Sublime tribute band.” Fayuca absolutely killed it up there as well. The crowd seemed to have doubled since Full Service an hour earlier, and the level of response showed that those present were no strangers to Fayuca. Blurring the lines between reggae, rock and cumbia, it’s a good bet they made a few fans as well. After their set, the light came down once more and we waited. Then out of the darkness, a single note from a keyboard. The crowd utterly lost it because they knew what it meant – Badfish were here, and they were taking us straight to Garden Grove. The vibes came pouring down like rain. Throughout the night we heard everything – from pop-radio mainstays like Santeria down through deep cuts like New Thrash. And we sang and sang…It seemed as though everybody knew these lyrics. Singer Pat Downes didn’t even bother with the first verse of Santeria – we took care of it for him. And hearing the theatre erupt with a unison scream of “1-8- 7 on a mother fuckin’ cop” was epic. It was all just… perfect. The sound, the vibes – and yes, the smells – it was all just right. Even Downes’ voice was an eerie echo of Bradley Nowell’s. While the representation of the music we know and love was spot-on, what made it really special were the differences – like the long, dubbed-out horn jam during Pawn Shop or the style changing extension of Doin’ Time. They even took What I Got and stepped it up from urban-acoustic to reggae to ska to an overblown punk rock fervor for the finale. Sublime never did that, but Badfish did. That’s what makes Badfish special. They take the classic material that got us all through high school, but they don’t really change it. They don’t adapt it. They play it just as we remember it and enhance it with respect and reverence for the source. That’s above and beyond what is asked of a typical tribute band. Badfish are more than that. To see Badfish is to see the Sublime that could have been.
All photos by Chris Lazaga