From the Studio

Meet Badfish, the Sublime cover band that melted Westcott Theater last weekend

Nalae White | Staff Photographer

Badfish, the Sublime tribute band, was at The Westcott Theater on the night of the Academy Awards. The band averages about 130 shows a year with three to four tours.

For Syracuse fans of the ska-punk band Sublime, the Academy Awards were not the biggest event that occurred on Sunday night. Instead, they all gathered at The Westcott Theater to watch the Sublime tribute band, Badfish perform.

Badfish, named after one of the band’s most famous songs, formed when members Joel Hanks on bass and Scott Begin on drums conceived the idea to put on a Sublime tribute show during their time in college at the University of Rhode Island in 2001. When their first show was a major success, they decided to continue performing regularly and eventually became a touring band. They now play an average of 130 shows a year, and generally have three or four small tours annually.

But one of the most defining characteristics of Badfish is that each member is multi-talented and can play more than one instrument. Besides Hanks and Begin, the band also has a vocalist who also plays guitar, a keys player, a trombonist and a trumpeter. During the concert on Sunday, keys player Dorian Duffy also picked up the guitar; vocalist Pat Downes played a saxophone; Begin played acoustic guitar; and the brass players contributed to back-up vocals and percussion.

Because of the death of Sublime lead singer Bradley Nowell in 1996, Badfish is as close as fans can get to seeing the reggae rock band live — although Sublime with Rome exists, they seem to have a slightly different style than the original material. For the band itself, it’s all about making sure the music of Sublime lives on.

“Sublime served as somewhat of a soundtrack to our college years,” Begin said. “Everybody we knew loved Sublime and we figured it would be something that our peers would be interested in seeing a live performance of.”

The crowd went wild on Sunday when the staff released the Badfish tapestry on the background of the stage — a design of a trippy, colorful fish smoking a cigarette. Then before the band took stage, the lights in the venue went off and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” played in its entirety, the crowd singing every word and beginning to pack tightly together, eager for Badfish to begin.

“Party time,” Downes announced when the band finally emerged.

The band played everything from classics still heard on the radio today — “Santeria,” “What I Got,” “Doin’ Time” and “Wrong Way,” — to Sublime fan favorites, “Garden Grove,” “Seed,” “Boss D.J.,” “Smoke Two Joints” and “Date Rape,” which most of the audience knew the lyrics to.

The members of Badfish — though they admitted they hadn’t gotten much sleep — knew how to have fun on stage. At any given time, the brass players were dancing goofily and laughing together when they were not playing. During “Rivers of Babylon,” the vocalists all held out a note for as long as they could.

“You only have to play guitar twice and you f*cked it up,” said Downes to Nowell when the cable connecting his guitar to the amplifier came unplugged, and the audience erupted laughing.

Where most of the songs sounded identical to Sublime, Badfish occasionally would switch it up and use their own rendition of a song by either adding brass to the composition, a cool effect from the keys or even beat boxing. During the encore, the trumpeter also took a selfie from the stage while the drum and guitar just jammed, making everyone excited for the final song, “What I Got.” During the jam session, Duffy at the keyboard played the pop culture lines “Cash Me Outside How Bout Dah” and “Smoke Weed Everyday” as the beat dropped, gaining a positive feedback from the crowd.

“I hope you keep the music of Sublime alive because it’s f*ckng amazing,” Downes said at the end of the show.

The set lasted for a total of an hour and 15 minutes. Josh Ringen, a Syracuse University junior majoring in construction management, has seen Badfish a total of five times, and said this show did not disappoint.

“They are easily the best Sublime cover band. They sound better than Sublime with Rome. It’s a high-energy environment with an awesome combination of ska and punk music,” Ringen said.

Ringen’s girlfriend Emily Fusco, a junior environmental studies major, had never seen the Sublime tribute band before, and had high expectations going in. Even with high expectations, she was impressed.

“I liked everything. The atmosphere was great, the people there were so much fun, everyone was just jumping around and screaming the lyrics and obviously the best part was the music because Badfish killed it,” said Fusco.

Badfish does not try to be Sublime, nor do they try to be better than Sublime. All they wish to do is play music that they love for people who love it just as much as they do.

Said Begin: “We just play their music as best we can and we strive to put on a high energy entertaining show every night. We’re not a ‘lookalike’ tribute band. We’re just guys that love the music and seek to do it justice on a nightly basis.”


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