Badfish @ Governor’s Island

NEW YORK, NY—Most critics, when reviewing a tribute band, often start out with something along the lines of, “I have a long and complicated relationship with tribute bands blah blah blah…,” but not me. I hate tribute bands. I think they’re boring, cheesy, unwanted and unnecessary monkeys who are stuck wriggling through the past instead of pushing forward towards bigger, better things. But Badfish, despite the fact that they are a tribute band that plays solely Sublime songs (hell, even songs that Sublime covered), still manage to blow me away every single time with their booze-soaked energy and tireless dedication to recreating the music of Sublime.

This show on Governor’s Island was no different. After a small warm up from DJ I, Storm who dropped some seriously dope beats, the world’s best tribute to Sublime popped onto the stage bottles in hand (just the way Bradley would want to be remembered, I’m sure) to a modest, but excited crowd, ready to skank and circle mosh like it’s 1995 all over again. As a brief excerpt from Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls shot from the speakers, a small tingle of electricity began to surge through the crowd, bolting back to the stage as we shouted “REEFERS!” and the band ripped into the first song of the night, Sublime’s infamous “Smoke Two Joints.”

Even though I have seen Badfish perform live a handful of times now, I’m still constantly confounded by how much they manage to sound like Sublime spot-on every time. The rhythm section creates that same hip-swinging Long Beach drum ‘n bass beat every time, blending deep, growling bass with upbeat, mildly delayed snare hits. And lead singer Pat Downes mimics Bradley Nowell’s pained, junkie croon with such precise dedication that if you close your eyes, I swear to God, it’s like being 14 again, sitting in your room alone with the headphones on, discovering just how great music could be, and more importantly, how great it makes you feel when you realize that you just don’t give a shit about anything else.

Badfish ran through their usual set of Sublime songs consisting of every great song from every great album released between 1992 and 1996, and they played each with the same vitality and urgency that even mellower tracks like “Badfish” and “Rivers Of Babylon” felt alive and invigorating. The group was joined by a female singer doing her best Gwen Stefani impression for “Saw Red,” and even allowed themselves to branch out from the set Sublime format with some extended, reverb-drenched reggae jams.

Something I’ve noticed consistently with Badfish shows that makes them stand apart from most tribute bands is the age of their crowds. Sure, there are usually a few 30-something’s wandering through the crowd reminiscing on better days when Sublime was burning down club after club, but for the most part the crowd was made up of young adults in their late teens and early 20s. Most of these kids were still wetting the bed by the time Bradley Nowell overdosed and Sublime disbanded. Just goes to show that those three guys from Long Beach were onto some serious shit when they wrote three classic albums that sell just as well (if not better) today than back in 1996. While I won’t say that Badfish are the reason for this, I’ll say that they’re certainly helping to keep Sublime alive. It’s music that won’t die, and Badfish are a group that won’t let anyone pull the plug.