Tribeca Film Festival review 2019: ‘Sublime’

Sublime takes fans through the band’s debut album release

If there’s a definition of the Southern California sound, Sublime gave us a taste of it with their ska/reggae/pop debut album, Sublime. Emerging with plenty of promise despite their really rough, raw demos, Sublime were destined to be the face of this new sound that spread its way quickly throughout the country on the strength of several polished, radio-friendly tracks—“What I Got”, “Wrong Way” “Santeria”. However, it wasn’t meant to be with the death of Sublime lead singer and songwriter Bradley Nowell just a month before their lone album was released and becoming one of the best selling albums of the Nineties. While it propelled Sublime to almost mythic status, the documentary Sublime shows how the remaining members of the band, Nowell’s wife, and friends were shattered knowing Nowell would never live to see the success of their debut album. Their years of paying dues, earning respect from their peers, and slowly working their way from local Southern California band to national prominence are all summarized in this must see documentary that debuted at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Sublime tells the story of Norwell and his love of music from an early age, playing in several bands before forming the heart of Sublime in the late Eighties. For those unaware of their history, Sublime played to audiences that would become loyal to their mix of rock, soul, surf, eventually incorporating some rap, reggae, swing, jazz and ska; an unorthodox mix of music that the band made work despite their early demos and live outtakes being very rough around the edges. Stories are told from the early days are told by friends, family members and fellow bands such as Gwen Stefani who shares many humorous stories of sharing bills with Sublime. Former band members describe these days with fondness as well as opening old wounds of band turmoil, but the documentary gives equal coverage of the good and the bad times, especially the bands fondness for heavy drug use. But we also see the human side of Bradley, who tried his best to tone his own drug use down once he found out he was about to become a father, and Sublime being on the verge of exploding (which it did without their lead singer).

Amidst the tragic story the documentary has plenty of humor and lots and lots of great music especially rarely heard early Sublime demos where we hear the beauty in the musical chaos Sublime recorded with their mix of various musical influences. The documentary ends at the point of their debut album’s release and there’s hardly a word mention of the band’s legacy, it’s impact, how people across the country were not even aware that the music they were hearing from this band called Sublime for the first time, the lead singer had died just before its release. But there’s plenty of great stories told of a band that did have an impact, albeit for a short time, inspiring bands to take chances changing up their music, a legacy Sublime can be proud of.

Rob Perez
Rob Perez

Rob Perez is a freelance writer who has been with The Music Universe early on. As a Correspondent for The Music Universe, you will find him writing reviews and live tweeting awards shows.