Sublime: 3-Ring Circus: Live at the Palace – October 21, 1995

It's not perfect, but it certainly reminds us to ask the question: "What could Sublime have been?" In this case at least, the answer would be a fun-as-hell, sloppy live band with some pretty good reggae chops.


3-Ring Circus: Live at the Palace – October 21, 1995

Label: Gasoline Alley
US Release Date: 2013-06-18
UK Release Date: 2013-07-15

"Ain't got no time to grow old," Bradley Nowell sings on one of the more celebrated songs in Sublime's catalog, "Badfish". There's an element of intrigue added to that utterance on the recent 3-Ring Circus: Live at the Palace – October 21, 1995 for two reasons. One, it's mumbled and flippant, which contrasts brilliantly with his idea to pick up the pace of the upstrokes that his guitar shouts, a minor but noticeable improvisation from the tune's original incarnation, and man, does it sound good. And two ... well, Nowell would die of a heroin overdose about seven months after the show at the age of 28, giving about 5.3 tons of weight to that lyric as it lives on through the band's legacy.

It's a legacy that sits prominently at the center of this latest live CD/2-DVD set. Lord knows there's been more than a deluge of material released after the singer died, but 3-Ring Circus feels just a little more authentic than its predecessors. Stand By Your Van, the group's only other notable live release, might sound better, yes, and the performances might very well be tighter or more professional, sure, but the truth is that this 27-track release captures the trio in all its uncomfortably sloppy glory better than anything else that they have ever released (including the off-the-cuff acoustic compilation that hit shelves after Nowell's untimely death).

In fact, some of it's even embarrassing. "Foolish Fool" is a skeleton of a song here as its three-and-a-half minutes sound more like a disorganized band practice than anything. It gets so bad that even the singer himself feels the need to apologize to the crowd after the train wreck's fire finally settles to ashes. “Thanks for bearing with us – we’ll see you here next year. We’ll have it right then,” he tells the crowd, and it breaks your heart just a little. "Caress Me Down", another new one at the time, flirts with the same kind of disaster, but eventually perseveres, amounting to a pretty good (but admittedly rough) early version of one of the band's best songs.

However – and somewhat miraculously – not once do these missteps affect the release in any negative way; rather, they come across as some of the best examples of how charming both the band and its leader could be. "What I Got", "Santeria" and "Wrong Way" were bona fide hits, with a capital H. To hear a trio that could have been playing to tens of thousands of people on a nightly basis wander through a truckload of songs in a shitty, little L.A. club gives the entire collection a seductiveness that eventually proves impossible to shake.

Plus, Nowell and his boys could back the hype up whenever they wanted to. 3 Ring Circus begins with a knock-out combination of quickly presented favorites that set the frantic tone fabulously. The trio's take on Bad Religion's "We're Only Gonna Die for Our Arrogance" has always been great fun with its tempos varying on a dime, accentuating precisely how loose the entire set would end up feeling. From there, it dives into "Don't Push", "Garden Grove" and "Right Back", a golden trifecta that is worth the price of the release alone. The most fascinating of the bunch is "Grove". As the tune that would eventually kick off the band's most popular and slightly iconic self-titled record, it's always been a wonder how it may have translated within the parameters of a live setting. The answer? Simple, but effective.

What would have been the pre-"What I Got" hits are all here, too. "Saw Red" turns the ska to 11 and while shaky, it's also a reminder of how great a punk band Sublime actually were. "40 Oz. To Freedom", from the group's best record that shared the same name, is a tiny bit indecipherable, but still endearing nonetheless. That said, once the distortion kicks in, all bets are off. One of the best covers Nowell ever dreamt up was Toots & the Maytals' "54-46 Was My Number", and while it receives a turbo introduction, it evens out for what becomes a rather ruckus interpretation of the classic.

Fan favs "Date Rape", "Smoke Two Joints", "D.J.s" and even the aforementioned "Badfish" all show up and each time they do, it's like reuniting with an old friend. "Date Rape" provides extracurricular entertainment as the song pauses midway through the performance after bassist Eric Wilson breaks one of his strings. Meanwhile, "Joints" wins the award for Most Provocative Moment as the group stretches out and expands the lengths of their typical reggae/punk short-song formula. It forces listeners to ask what might have been, had Nowell won the battle with his demons.

Even so, we are now far enough removed from the lightning rod that was Sublime that we can look back on these things with enough perspective to allow us to focus more on appreciation than we do tragedy. 3-Ring Circus is delightful on almost every level (and though the DVD adds almost nothing, it sure is interesting to see the group perform on the cusp of releasing what would end up being a smash record). You don't have to be a die-hard fan to warm up to these chaotic, flimsy performances of mostly songs that only die-hards would even know. There is an inherent energy to it all that should be both admired and celebrated with or without revisionist history.

Indeed, Bradley Nowell wasn't lying when he said he didn't have time to grow old. 3-Ring Circus: Live at the Palace – October 21, 1995, if nothing else, reminds us that as fans, we sure wish he was.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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