Last December, I saw legendary Fishbone singer-saxophonist-madman Angelo Moore play the annual winter solstice party in Muir Beach, Calif., feverishly leading his new band, the Brand New Step, through new originals; entering the crowd of about 50 people to teach us dance move; and covering David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream.” Moore and Fishbone, formed in Los Angeles in 1979, have a legitimate case for belonging in the Rock-and-roll Hall of Fame, at the very least as influencers, so seeing Moore at a neighborhood party overlooking the Pacific Ocean was a treat, but then so was seeing Fishbone blow the roof off the 350-capacity club Hodi’s Half Note in Fort Collins last night.
Longtime Fort Collins promoter Scoo Leary put together the show, which packed the tiny venue, as Fishbone is in Colorado to open for George Clinton at Mission Ballroom tonight. Local band 12 Cents for Marvin, which opened for Fishbone at Hodi’s 15 years ago, got the buzzing crowd ready, covering the English Beat’s classic “Mirror in the Bathroom” and at one point joining the horn section from early opener Roka Hueka in the middle of the audience for an epic brass battle.
Just after 11pm, Fishbone took the stage and launched into a reggae jam that became “Unyielding Conditioning,” eliciting the kind of roar the eclectic group probably hasn’t heard on a nightly basis since the ‘90s, when it was a household name and middle-school kids around the U.S. were getting sent home for wearing Fishbone’s iconic “Fuck Racism” shirts. That’s because Fishbone’s current six-piece lineup is all original members, really only missing visionary songwriter Kendall Jones, who you know joined a Christian cult and went sideways with his former bandmates if you saw the acclaimed 2011 documentary Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone.
Bassist Norwood Fisher and his brother, drummer “Fish” Fisher, are still one of rock’s most powerful and interesting rhythm sections. Between them and Moore’s gospel-like charisma, it only took a few moments to be reminded there has never been an act like Fishbone, and a few tunes for the breaking out of a mosh pit, something Northern Colorado doesn’t see often. The juxtaposition of funk, ska, punk, rock, reggae and metal Fishbone unleashed last night at Hodi’s paved the way for Red Hot Chili Peppers, Primus, No Doubt, Sublime, 311 and countless other mainstream successes who, mostly, acknowledge they wouldn’t exist without the influence of Fishbone – not just its music but its full-steam-ahead, chaotic performance style.
At 53 years old, Moore has the frantic crowd-exciting energy of a 20-year-old, singing lead vocals on most songs, working the crowd during and between tunes, and moving from saxophone to Theremin and back at his whim. While the crowd skanked and sang along, Fishbone’s setlist at Hodi’s traversed its evolution as a band, from in-your-face up-tempo Parliamant Funkadelic-inspired ska (“Ugly,” etc.) to its Stevie Wonder-influenced near-hit “Everyday Sunshine” (which Fishbone played on Saturday Night Live in 1991), to the political funk-metal of “Servitude,” which the band closed with and many fans called for throughout the two-hour set.
From day one–exhilarating and inspiring other musicians in the early Los Angeles punk scene alongside Fear, X, Black Flag, et al.–Fishbone (which highlighted the 1993 Lollapalooza tour with Tool, Primus, Rage and more) has captivated live audiences, critics and their peers but had a difficult time translating the brilliance and talent of its lightning-in-a-bottle mayhem into mainstream-ready albums, not unlike Robin Williams’ initial struggle to translate his rocket-fueled stand-up into movie roles. But at Hodi’s Fishbone showed it’s triumphed by surviving, while many bands it influenced either burned out or became caricatures of themselves.
Last night, when Moore dedicated “Lyin’ Ass Bitch” to Donald Trump ( “you lyin- ass Trump bitch!”) at Hodi’s, I thought of Fishbone’s continued mark on popular culture, from Moore stealing the spotlight in Back to the Beach (you’re not an 80s kid if you don’t remember that movie) to the Roots famously playing “Lyin’ Ass Bitch” when Michele Bachmann walked onstage to greet Jimmy Fallon. While you have the chance, don’t miss out–whether it’s seeing Fishbone perform whenever you’re blessed with the chance, geeking out on the group’s Spotify catalog or checking out its conversation with X’s John Doe in the new L.A. punk-history book More Fun in the New World.