Many local music fans raised their eyebrows when the Pour House announced that a Fishbone show was solid for February. With their wild hybrid of hard rock, punk, funk, and ska — and their array of dreadlocks and mohawks — Fishbone was wildly popular in the alternative rock scene 20 years ago. These days, they’re just as tight, energetic, and funky. Perhaps they’re aiming for a more selective audience.
I freaked out when I first saw Fishbone on MTV in 1985. The L.A.-based, all-black rock group had just signed with Columbia Records and released a self-titled EP. The lead single, “? (Modern Industry),” was a jumpy and hypnotic ska-beat rocker poking goofy fun at the business side of commercial radio. The video for the song was wild. With his skinny necktie, dark specs, and braces, frontman Angelo Moore looked like a pop-punk nerd, and his bandmates came across like a Technicolor reggae/rock freak show. I was hooked.
The second Fishbone tune that grabbed me was the follow-up single “Party at Ground Zero,” a melodic ska-based pop jam with high-energy brass and sax, soul-band harmonies, and more than a few spazzy vocalizations from Moore and his gang. The song demonstrated some of the rich elements of ’70s funk and soul that was at the heart of their music.
I paid attention as the band progressed. Their ambitious 1988 LP, Truth and Soul, was huge on college radio (these were the pre-grunge days). Funk-metal fans loved the heavier guitar-based stuff, where old-school funk fans appreciated their brass-driven tracks and their tasteful rendition of Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead.”
Through the 1990s, Fishbone released a series of studio and live albums and tinkered with its lineup. Hardcore fans remained fiercely dedicated along the way, but, unfortunately, the band never quite earned mainstream success.
Their ups and downs were recently documented by Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler for a forthcoming doc titled Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone. Narrated by Laurence Fishburne, the film chronicles the band’s days in the Hollywood music scene of the 1980s through their rise to bouts of commercial success. Everyday Sunshine focuses on Moore and bassist Norwood Fisher, examining the triumphs and failures of the band as well as the dynamics of the inter-band relationships.
The documentary features interviews with a slew of veteran California musicians including Gwen Stefani, Flea, Keith Morris, Les Claypool, Perry Farrell, ?uestlove, and Ice-T, among others. There’s plenty of hot concert footage and off-stage scenes as well.
Everyday Sunshine debuted at the L.A. Film Festival in 2010. It’s finally being distributed nationwide by Cinema Guild. This month’s release coincides with the celebration of Black History Month.
Moore, Fisher, and their bandmates — drummer John Steward, guitarist Rocky George (of Suicidal Tendencies), trumpeter “Dirty” Walter A. Kibby, keyboardist Dre Gipson, and trombonist/guitarist John McKnight — may not need to achieve mainstream success to dazzle a new generation. If they still deliver their punk-rock funk with the same freak-show vibe that knocked me out in ’85, they’ll crush it on tour this month.