Back From the Boneyard – Fishbone Still Rockin’

California ska punks, Fishbone have come a mighty long way since their humble beginnings in 1979. The six black guys from LA, who have kept it real in a world dominated by white skaters and record label stuffed shirts, came through Calgary last night, playing a frenzied (free!) show at the Ship and Anchor and promoting a documentary based on the band, “Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone.”

The film, which features interviews with musical powerhouses from several genres, including Flea, Gwen Stefani, Ice-T, and George Clinton. It is no wonder the band has had such a major impact on so many artists from so many fields. The sound of Fishbone is as genre defying as any band’s. Their eclectic mix of ska, punk, funk, reggae, hardcore, etc, etc. is the result of the fiercely individual attitudes of the two band leaders – Angelo Moore, sometimes known as Dr. Madd Vibe, with his tattooed flaming mohawk, giant ironic smile, wailing lyrics, screaming saxophone, and a theremin that he somehow fits into the frantic melange of strings and winds; and Norwood Fisher, the bearded, dreadlocked bassist/vocalist with the raspy voice to match 30 years of a touring punk rocker.

Ma and Pa

Formed during a time of economic and racial tension in America, and California, especially, Fishbone wanted to stand out, a desire that would come easily. Being the only black ska band at the time, they stood out based on their colour. But their music stood out as well. The wide range of music that Fishbone covers is a testament to their diverse fanbase. Their music is neither black nor white. It is neither punk nor funk. Quite simply, it is Fishbone. There was no desire to rally one particular community. No desire to fit a certain mould. Only the desire to make their own music and to be known as distinct musicians.

By bringing the funk to punk, Fishbone were unlike anything before or since. By being the first, they were able to develop their own sound, one which has been impossible to pin down from day one. Imitators have come and gone, ska has been taken in every conceivable direction and watered down by labels and milquetoast musicians. Fishbone, however, have stayed the same despite a constantly evolving sound, rotating stable of band members, legal troubles (in which Fisher was charged with kidnapping fellow band member, Kendall Jones), successes and failures. Whether an old fan or a newcomer to Fishbone, their music is well worth checking out, and the documentary a must-see.

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