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Like the Village People, Only Fly: Fishbone doesn't dress like this anymore. No one does. Except you.

Bone of Contention

Fishbone are still trying to get the recognition they deserve

By Mike Connor

"Okay, I'm in the gymnastics class right now," said Fishbone frontman Angelo Moore, his voice assuming the character of a cartoonish mad scientist as he prowled around a gymnastics camp in L.A. "I'm up in here now man, oh I'm up in here goddamn."

He was sitting with the rest of the adoring parents, watching his daughter while talking to me on his cell phone ... but then he hung up on me. I never did get back in touch with Dr. Madd Vibe, a.k.a. Angelo Moore, who left me hanging with an oddly abbreviated conversation about the future of Fishbone. It's possible that his cell phone just lost reception, after which he was promptly eaten by mutant killer manatees. Judging by a previous failed attempt at an interview, it's more likely that Moore is just not very interested in interviews anymore.

But it's also possible that I offended him with my last statement prior to the disconnection, a lead-in to a question about how he feels about his band getting left in the dust of all the bands--from Sublime to No Doubt to Mighty Mighty Bosstones--that rocketed to success through a door that Fishbone opened. Specifically, I said to Moore, "It seems that you guys have gotten the shaft in more ways than one ..."

"Say that again?" interjected Moore.

"I said, it seems that you guys have gotten the shaft in more ways than one, because ..."

"Yeah," said Moore, "wait, hold on a second, hold on."

Click.

It wasn't the conversation I'd imagined. Moore is the charismatic frontman of one of the defining bands not only of my teenage years, but of the ska explosion of the early '90s that finally obliterated the lingering stench of hair bands who were quickly going down in flames. Believers like me know that Fishbone continued what English bands like the Specials, Madness and the Clash started. But while those bands took the feel-good sounds of Jamaican ska and added a bit of rock & roll energy, Fishbone played a kind of ska that tapped the blinding intensity of punk rock and thrash metal, maintaining a supple backbone of funk all the while via Norwood Fisher's infamously nuttrageous bass lines.

Fishing for Fame

Formed in 1979, when most of the six members of the band were still in junior high, Fishbone came straight outta South-Central L.A., but as part of a project to integrate inner city kids into suburban schools, they were bussed out to Woodland Hills, a predominantly white area in the San Fernando Valley. They started gigging around L.A., sometimes billing themselves as "Megatron" to sneak onto heavy metal bills, only to confound the headbanging fans with funk and ska. But they finally broke out with a self-titled album in 1985 that truly showcased their energy and irreverence on songs like "Lyin' Ass Bitch" and "Ugly," while also delivering political bite with the antiwar anthem, "Party at Ground Zero."

Fishbone hit their stride in 1987 with Truth and Soul, a funky, soulful exploration of racism and life in the ghetto. The follow-up in 1991, The Reality of My Surroundings, refined the themes of Truth and Soul, but was slicker and a bit more palatable for mainstream audiences.

But everything they did after The Reality of My Surroundings faded into the irrelevance of obscurity--not even a spot on 1993's Lollapalooza could revitalize their fanbase. Fishbone popped up on the news when guitarist Kendall Jones supposedly got brainwashed by a cult--he never rejoined the band. Fishbone's releases weren't making money, so they got the shaft from multiple labels, and members started dropping like flies. Meanwhile, records by No Doubt and Sublime were on their way to multiplatinum status, glutting the MTV generation's appetite for ska. Then the craze ended, and guess who got the shaft?

When I talked to Moore, he and Fisher (the only two remaining members of the band) were laying down a few tracks to shop around to record labels. Fortunately, he seems optimistic about the material they've got in the works.

"We just had a lot of band dysfunctionalism that kept us from going to the level that we needed to be at," said Moore, explaining the lack of output and dwindling original members.

"Yeah, they're droppin' like flies man," he said, and then added, in the crazy voice, "And me and Norwood remain like roaches."


Fishbone perform at the Catalyst on Friday, March 19, at 9pm. Tickets are $13 adv, $15 door; 16 and up.

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From the March 17-24, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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