Thursday, April 29, 1999
If you tried to describe the band that''s playing tonight at Doc''s, you''d probably end up with one of those popular, multi-hyphenated, musical genres. Even the members of Fishbone can''t decide if they''re ska-punk-funk or rock-reggae-jazz.
Whatever the style, fans have been digging Fishbone''s self-described "nuttmeg" musical mixings since their first hit, "Party at Ground Zero," in 1985, and even before when the band formed in L.A. in 1979. Three years after the release of their latest CD, Chim Chim''s Badass Revenge, Fishbone plans to finish a new CD in the next month or two, according to bassist Norwood Fisher.
"We''re exploring and experimenting, but it''ll definitely be Fishbone," says Fisher. "There''s a lot of reggae and ska, some live jungle beats. We''ve got some new skills, some butterfly wing-flapping techniques. You''ll see. I''m really excited."
Fishbone''s eclectic bag of tricks has drawn in friends from all areas of music, with rapper Busta Ryhmes showing up on Chim Chim''s Badass Revenge, and ber-bassist Les Claypool of Primus and funk godfather George Clinton both slated to play on the new, as yet untitled CD. Fishbone headlined the 1993 Lollapalooza tour with Rage Against the Machine, and has shared the stage with Sublime, No Doubt, James Brown and Jimmy Cliff.
Along with changes in the band lineup (drummer Phil D. Fisher, keyboard/trumpet player Anthony Brewster, guitarist Kendall Jones, and keyboard player Chris Down have left), Fishbone''s CDs have evolved in sound, from the party funk of 1991''s Reality of My Surroundings to the heavy rock of 1993''s Give A Monkey A Brain and He''ll Swear He''s the Center of the Universe.
"The new people really add to the group," says Fisher, speaking of John Stewart on drums and John McKnight on keyboards. "And all the albums really have equal doses of rock, funk and ska, I think. Kendall Jones got into Alice in Chains when we were doing Give A Monkey A Brain so it has more rock, but they all have magic moments. Chim Chim''s specific purpose was to be really underground. We tried so hard to get Fishbone on the radio back in the ''80s; with Chim Chim, we just said fuck all that, we want to make music. Our whole approach I liked."
Live shows take this approach to heart. High energy lead singer and saxman Angelo Moore is especially talented at getting a crowd dancing with his zany stage antics. Riding on the crest of the funk-rock wave that swept in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane''s Addiction and Primus, Fishbone appeals to those who like a hard crust on their otherwise chewy funk and ska.
"We''re a dance band, and we play aggressive," explains Fisher. "The wide appeal is our ability to stay honest. The music is coming from the gut. It''s like a man''s orgasm: You can''t fake it, you know?"
Fishbone''s main thrust, if you will, appears on the surface to be party hard, ask questions later. But they do have a serious side, and tackle social and political issues. Policemen and CEOs get their licks in "They All Have Abandoned Their Hopes," from Give A Monkey A Brain: "Death to the corporate, the yuppie scum/cloud up the Earth. Shine people shine and never abandon your turf...Limitations and almost marshal [sic] law and robots with badges and quick draw/Just lights and glitter and garbage underneath..." Racism is another favorite topic, as heard on "Black Flowers" from Give A Monkey A Brain, "Black flowers have lost their way/Why does this hatred linger on/and the passing time has healed no wounds."
Covering these messages with a thick gravy of rock-ska fusion has worked well for the band. "We party in the face of madness," says Fisher. "But we want people to see we all experience the same things and have wishes, and our DNA codes tell us to survive, you know?"
When all is said and done however, Fishbone''s party rolls on. Don''t miss it when they hit Doc''s at around 10pm. cw
Fishbone, with Monkey opening. Doc''s Nightclub, Cannery Row. $15. 649-4241.