Sublime played their first gig 25 years ago in Long Beach — on July 4th, 1988. (The show is said to have started a riot, with a bunch of arrests.)
From then until Bradley Nowell's untimely death in 1996, not much still exists in the way of video. But amateur filmmaker Gary Davis managed to capture the last full recording of Nowell and the crew before he died — a legendary 27 song set on October 21st, 1995 at the Hollywood Palace (now the Avalon).
Davis met Sublime's manager Jon Phillips when he snuck into an earlier show at Las Palmas, and somehow convinced Phillips to let him record that show and the Palace show. He captured a raw and rowdy performance.
Bootlegs have circulated for years, but the video was just released officially in conjunction with the 25th anniversary. The best part? After years of wrangling, Davis was able to sell his footage to the band's management for, in his words, “a lot.” (He wouldn't tell us the exact figure.) The deluxe version of the DVD, called 3 Ring Circus, also includes a recording of the Las Palmas show, featuring a candid moment of Nowell playing around with Davis' camera. We spoke with him about how it all came to pass.
What complications were there in getting this DVD released?
[Mainly] complications between the “new Sublme” and their new manager, versus the “real Sublime” and their old manager. (Phillips.) I was concerned that the new band wouldn't want to be competing against the old material, or that [band members] Eric [Wilson] or Bud [Gaughs] might not like how they looked in the video. We had to get approval from both of them, and Brad's estate as well.
They were never concerned about the video quality and the compensation wasn't a stumbling point. Oddly enough, it's the smallest details that were the hardest to work out; particularly, issues of what credits I would get, creative control, etc. Also, there were periods of months (up to six months) when they simply didn't get back to me. I think they were waiting for an advance from Universal.
How were you compensated?
We [had] agreed on a number of specific things, but [except for the money] I didn't get any of them. I am angry and disappointed about this. Like so many people, I feel used up and spit out by the music industry. But at least I did get my money up front!
From the time I met with Jon Phillips 'till the time I got the check, unbelievably, it took about 19 months, and then almost another full year to prepare the DVD. And they still haven't sent me any free copies! I bought one at Best Buy and several from Amazon.
What did you think about the Hollywood Palace audio bootleg being released so long ago?
I recorded this under the promise that I wasn't a bootlegger, so to have other people bootleg the video is discouraging. It''s frustrating to the band to see their work selling for money and not get paid, and that is frustrating to me too, since aside from this one time, I've really never been paid for anything!
However, I'm more comfortable seeing it on YouTube because at least no one is taking money for that, and also there's a hit-counter to show how many people have watched it. I've had about 2 million hits total on videos I've posted myself, so combined with the Sublime hits, I have perhaps four million views on YouTube.
The deluxe version of the 3 Ring Circus DVD also includes an audio CD, as well as a small poster and a Sublime laminate.