Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Badfish (A Tribute to Sublime), Zox / Toad's Place, New Haven, CT / Nov. 12, 2004

By MITM Southern New England Bureau Chief Ted Scharff

A hot Russian girl I work with invited me to come out to Toad's Place with her last Friday. A really great band called Badfish was playing, she told me. They play Sublime songs.

"Oh, uh… I'm not so sure I'm going to make it out tonight. Doesn't really sound like my scene."
"What, are you too cool to come out and dance with us?"
"No, I just uh… it’s raining pretty hard, and I'm kind of into a book over here."

A few minutes after disconnecting the phone, I started to think maybe she was right. I pondered: What had six years in New York City done to me? Here I am, brand-spanking-new in town, don't know a soul. A pretty girl asks me to go to a show with her, and I'm balking because the band plays songs that are too popular. Funny, I don't remember setting out to become a music snob. But could I really bring myself to pay $12 to hear people try to sound like a band that never did anything original in the first place?

Perhaps I could...

Hot Russian Girl's number was ringing out to voicemail, so I just headed over to the club in hopes of meeting up with her and her friends inside. Toad's Place was filled to saturation. I made a quick survey of the club. It has an awkward setup. The high school kids are corralled into the front/center stage area, separated from the rest of the cavernous room by a shoulder-high wood and plexiglass barrier. You can't bring a drink into the stagecrowding area, and the only way out to the perimeter of the room -- where the bar and pool tables are -- is to wrestle your way through the crowd to a single handstamp checkpoint.

ZOX was on stage. I caught the last two songs. Apparently, CT Ska is still alive, and it’s been moldering all these years in the fridge next to the stinky Blues Traveller cheese. They had an electric violinist (like Yahoo Serious!), and they actually closed with a hard-driving rendition of Pachelbel's Canon. Eight years ago, it would have made an angsty high school me cringe to see the Dave Matthews set take up the reigns of a scene once dominated by giants like Mephiskaphales - This attitude had little to do with the music, actually. It was a conditioned aversion born of deep subcultural rifts, reinforced by years of adolescent alienation and distrust. But as I said, that was years ago. I leaned against a pillar in the back, tapping a foot and sipping a beer. Zox jammed hard.

My phone buzzed between sets and displayed the hot Russian Girl's number. I answered it and was greeted by tinny crowd noise, and muffled conversation. It was the sort of call you get from people's ass pocket when they forget to lock their keypad. Again, I searched for her in vain. I made my way around the room and through the checkpoint to get a second drink. I watched a cute girl in dreads going crazy to recorded sounds of Odelay as I waited for the main act to take the stage.

The headliner, BADFISH, sounded remarkably like Sublime would without a synth and sampler. Granted, Sublime's music is not the most technically difficult to play, nor is their style the toughest to imitate. What was impressive was the combination of reverence and energy that Badfish put into their show. Every detail, down to the inflections in the vocals, was meticulously faithful to the album versions that have been floating down the halls of college dorms for the past 10 years, and yet for the entire show, Badfish maintained an almost heroic level of enthusiasm.

Badfish played for over an hour, which means they got through approximately half of Sublime's catalog. They covered some of the one and two minute tracks from the first two albums, including the Brad Nowell / Gwen Stefani anthem of desperate love, "I Saw Red" (featuring a female vocalist in a Sublime T-Shirt who materialized for just that one song and then vanished back into the crowd.) They even played "Hong Kong Fooey," from MCA's 1995 Saturday Morning Cartoons' Greatest Hits compilation (If you've never heard this, buy it right now (if only for the Helmet and Violent Femmes tracks)). Mysteriously, Badfish neglected to play "Date Rape." Maybe they didn't want offend the rapists in the audience.

What else could I do? I got drunk. I danced my ass off like there were no Yalies staring at me. I intermittently sang along. I shouted out the sampled bits of the songs while pumping my fists in unison with the rest of the crowd.

I never found the hot Russian girl. Later, I found out she had decided to go to a goth club instead. But I learned a valuable lesson: No good bands come to New Haven since the Tune Inn went out of business.