Not too long ago, I visited Bombshell’s Tavern for the first time to check out the Norma Jean, Emery, and Night Verses show. I felt a bit out of my element to be at a new venue, but my punk rock heart was soon comforted by loud guitars and a crowd that looked like we would have bumped elbows in the same section of a record store.
Between bands, I noticed a poster for an upcoming Bubba Sparxxx show and immediately envisioned myself to a place in time ten years ago when his biggest hit “Ms. New Booty,” ruled the radio and dance floors, and perhaps, this could be my shot to finally live out a fantasy of feeling like I’m in a rap music video while wearing a cardigan.
Will there be exotic sports cars outside with white tigers lounging in the back seat? A hot tub filled to the brim with champagne or Miller High Life, the “Champagne of beers”? Dollar bills cascading out of air vents onto a crowd of beautiful people as they carelessly dance with their hands up in the air while they throw their perfect hair around from side to side? Then me, someone who looks more like Daria than a back-up dancer, spinning in slow circles, tucking away whatever cash falls on me to spend on empanadas later.
Granted, Bubba Sparxxx’s brand is blue-collar country-rap, his hits and notoriety were built on collaborations with hip-hop super producer, Timbaland (2001’s “Ugly” was #1 on the R&B and Rap charts & 2003’s “Deliverance” went to #9 on Rap chart), and party starters the Ying Yang Twins (2005 “Ms. New Booty” shot up to #1 on the Rap chart and #7 on Hot 100). Although he proved he would not be filed into one-hit wonder status then, how will his success from a decade ago translate to 2014 when he’s playing at a bar that’s overshadowed by the gas station a few doors down? This is why I went to find out this past Friday night and what happened then left me with mixed emotions more than memories.
New things make me nervous and this extends to being out of my element at a venue I have yet to develop a rapport with. After going to shows in town for over a dozen years, it easily becomes a routine. When going downtown, I have a $5 bill for Willie the parking attendant behind the Social who, charmingly, will ask every time he sees me if my family has married me off yet. (They know better.) To go to Will’s Pub, I take a semi-complicated route of side-streets to avoid a train delay. At these places I know where the bathrooms are, what bartenders to go to for a high-five and refills, and security pretends to check my drivers license because they know I’m not 20 years old.
All that said, it was only my second date with Bombshell’s Tavern and I wanted to get to know them better to kiss them on the mouth by the end of the night. The staff I encountered were the friendliest, from the door guy who welcomed us like he invited us there himself, to the sweetheart bartender who spent more time complimenting my bangs than it took for her to give me a bottle of water. Something different about the set-up this night was the “green room” for Bubba Sparxxx was in the middle of the lobby. In plain view, guarded by a perimeter of comfortable chairs, sat a 24-pack of water bottles and a couple other items from presumably the most humble artist rider, post-it note edition.
But here’s the thing about Bubba Sparxxx at Bombshell’s Tavern: there were more water bottles on that VIP table then people who were there for the main event. Unfortunately, this was not the night for me to be in my fake rap video.
The opener I caught, Apollo Electric, was the positive surprise of the night. The local Orlando five piece had enough energy to fill a field, mostly in part to the rapping and stage presence of Ed Wiggins who ran, jumped, and climbed on every open space that had him sweating through his shirt, and then some. Based on guitar riffs that ride fast and heavy, they have the edge to hang with hardcore bands, but what’s different is Wiggins’ quick vocal delivery that keeps up with every chord change. Finally, something notable and refreshing to see on stage is a badass female bass player in the band. PROPS.
Next, it was Bubba Sparxxx’s turn to go on stage and my heart started to sink for him. I don’t know the guy personally, but sometimes I feel sympathetic for things I can’t prepare for like an empty room for a mid-2000’s chart topper. (Another example of this phenomenon is when I’m not looking at where I’m walking and accidentally run into a table, hurt myself, then apologize to the inanimate object. It makes no sense but it feels like the polite thing to do.)
His DJ set-up, played some bangers from pre-2007 to get the crowd into the music room (our numbers by now were that of a bakers dozen) and with good intentions, the DJ finally announced “I don’t think we’ll get more warmed up than this. Please welcome Bubba Sparxxx to the stage!” I groaned to myself and replied to myself, “where was everyone that used to back it up to his songs all these years?”
This is where I want to drop the mic because I am torn about sharing what I need to say next. Bubba Sparxxx has come a long way since he became famous. Shit got difficult, he won his life back, and that deserves all the respect. That being said, for the first two songs it was fairly obvious he was singing over himself on the track. Yes, some argue that that’s an industry standard but I’m a purist. His mix was soon adjusted and Bubba Sparxxx looked like he was having the time of his life. His stage banter was humble, he was smiling from ear to ear, jumping up and down. The wildest part of his set was covering “Jump Around” by House of Pain when a middle-aged man in a polo shirt made a circle pit of one. Another noteworthy moment was during his closer of “Ms. New Booty,” the ass shaking reached its peak (as it should). Thank you based booty.
My suggestion for Bubba Sparxxx the next time he visits Orlando is instead of having his own night, to coordinate with an already established club night. For example, Independent Bar’s Mac & Cheese night hosted 95 South to a packed place and they were all there for the hits. Also, Bubba Sparxxx, if you’re reading this and made it past the last 1,000 words: I am glad you are healthy and thank you for the jams. (Hit me up if you need a punk rock writer in your next music video?)
Bubba Sparxx Live Review by Soorya Arsala.
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