Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Fishbone isn't what it used to be

Fishbone isn't what it used to be

Chris Lee
Los Angeles Times
May. 23, 2007 12:00 AM
LOS ANGELES - It was late on a recent Tuesday night in a remote precinct of downtown Los Angeles. Angelo Moore, flamboyant frontman for the pioneering punk-ska-metal band Fishbone, had jumped and wailed his way through a hyperkinetic 75-minute set for a small, lethargic crowd. The singer, a native Angeleno, paused for a moment outside a small venue called E. 3rd, shivering and shirtless and drenched in sweat. Running a hand along a tattoo that traverses his shaven head like a Mohawk, Moore contemplated what it meant to be home.

"I've been feeling kind of displaced," he said quietly. "From Los Angeles, but also from America as a whole."

But there were deeper issues.

"America hasn't been (anything) for a while and hasn't helped out Fishbone," Moore said. "I've given up on America - and Los Angeles."

The bitterness in his voice was unmistakable but also shocking. L.A. bashing might be the last thing anyone expects from the leader of a group that ranks among the most influential bands the city has produced in the past 25 years. Even if the group is a bigger deal in the Eastern and Southern hemispheres than in Southern California.

Along with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane's Addiction, the six members of Fishbone were crown princes of Angeleno "alternative music" in the mid-'80s to early '90s and also among its few Black scene makers. But only two original bandmates - Moore and bassist-vocalist John Norwood Fisher - remain, having withstood decades of infighting and relentless touring, many lineup changes and commercial misfires.

For that persistence, Fishbone has become a sentimental favorite of rock cognoscenti and re-entered the cultural landscape on a number of fronts.

Last year, the group was featured as the house band in Idlewild, a period musical starring the hip-hop duo OutKast, whose members are longtime fans as it turns out. Fishbone wrote and performed the soundtrack for David Arquette's directorial debut, The Tripper, which hit theaters last month. And Still Stuck in Your Throat, the group's first new studio album in six years and eighth overall, came out in the U.S. in April.

Now headlining a U.S. club tour, Fishbone is scheduled to perform on the Warped Tour this summer, unofficially serving as the traveling rock fest's elder statesmen along with punk band Bad Religion.

Moore's post-show blues might have been exacerbated by the seven-piece band's breakneck touring schedule. Leading up to the downtown gig - a poorly publicized release party for Still Stuck in Your Throat co-hosted by My Name Is Earl star Jason Lee - Fishbone had clocked tens of thousands of miles performing at music festivals in the former Soviet bloc, club dates across Canada and in Australia, where members of the group caught up with two of their oldest musical pals: Anthony Kiedis and Flea of the Chili Peppers.

"My head is spinning," said Moore, who still lives in the Los Angeles area. "It ain't been on straight, and I'm leaving again tomorrow."

Although Fishbone's most successful album, 1991's The Reality of My Surroundings, peaked at No. 49 in Billboard, the band's fusion punk-funk and Madball energy created the template on which other bands forged their sound, in many cases to the tune of platinum sales.

Among those who owe Fishbone a sonic debt: No Doubt, Goldfinger and Reel Big Fish (all, incidentally, have opened for Fishbone in the past), 311, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Less Than Jake and Sublime.

Fisher, stoic behind a pair of white wraparound sunglasses and with a giant dreadlock bursting from his backward baseball cap, recalled the group's early days, in the mid-'70s, when the band members bonded over Parliament/Funkadelic and Bad Brains.

"We were messing around with some reggae rhythms, and out of our youthful experimentation, we played it as fast as we could get," Fisher said. "Then we stopped and went, 'We invented something new! Punk-rock reggae!' "

From the early '80s onward, the band's sound became vital within action-sports culture. Actor Lee, 36, co-owns Stereo Skateboards and made his living as a pro skater before acting. He unveiled a signature Fishbone skateboard at the event.

"This was just a huge band in terms of being a part of our culture - skateboarding," Lee said before the band's performance. "We used to carry a little boom box around and play music while skateboarding. For me, it was always Fishbone."

Not so, apparently, for some aloof hipsters at the disorganized E. 3rd performance. Onstage, Moore chided the audience for its listlessness - "Wake yo (selves) up, you knuckle cluckers!" - and at one point he went into the crowd to physically facilitate more moshing and skanking. They wanted to hear the group's hits, it seemed, but there would be none.

Can this group be Fishbone with two-thirds of its original members gone? (Hint: The new album isn't called Still Stuck in Your Throat for nothing.)

"At this point, it's still Fishbone, because Angelo and me can still access that original energy," Fisher said. "We got a band of hard-riding brothers that seem to love what it means to be in Fishbone."

Smiling, he added: "I'm still having fun. I'm riding the horse all the way to the glue factory, daddy-o!"

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