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Sublime – 3-Ring Circus: Live at the Palace

Ben Fong-Torres

Ben Fong-Torres

Posted to Artist Spotlight on February 26, 2014

It’s pretty incredible, in a time when album sales of 250,000 are a cause for unbridled celebration at record labels, that Sublime’s eponymous 1996 album sold some 5 million copies.

3-Ring Circus: Live at the Palace, recorded only about seven months before, at the Palace Theater in Hollywood, shows the Long Beach band at full strength, its wide-ranging music—punk, thrash, ska, reggae—sending some of the sold-out crowd into dancing, fighting frenzies. But most of them were fixed on the bare-chested Nowell, on his flexible, soulful vocals, which so easily surfed from ska and dub to Cali punk, and his equally varied guitar work. Strongly backed by bassist Eric Wilson (also given to working shirtless) and drummer Brad Gaugh, with an occasional cameo from a pet Dalmatian, Sublime, together since 1988, romped through their hits, including “Date Rape,” which got rock radio play in L.A. in 1994 and got them into the majors (as in a record label).

Sublime fans will also appreciate “40 Oz. to Freedom” (the title of the 1992 album that spawned “Date Rape”) and “Badfish,” as well as a few covers, including Bad Brains’ “House of Suffering” and a concert-ending medley including “Ring the Alarm” by reggae great Tenor Saw and the Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias,” with Nowell inventing new, even druggier lyrics than Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter conjured.

It’s a rich, 27-song concert, and it’s advertised as the first full-concert film release from Sublime. But, having been shot in 1995, with Super-8 and 16mm cameras, it’s pretty rough, by today’s—or even yesterday’s—standards. It’s sometimes fuzzy, out of focus, and washed out. But it somehow fits the punk-thrash era, and the melancholy that pervades the show.

Still, as edited on Rock-Steadi-Cam (good name!) Hi8 video, 3-Ring Circus captures not only Sublime’s excellent performance, but the joy of the crowd, behind the band on stage and all around them at the Palace.

Do stick around for the ending. It’s nothing short of sublime.

Even if you weren’t reading Rolling Stone magazine in the late '60s /early '70s, you might still know who Ben Fong-Torres is from the movie “Almost Famous.” Ben Fong-Torres is the legendary Rolling Stone Senior Editor who was characterized in the Cameron Crowe movie and now,… More

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