There’s a riot going on onstage. Elbows and knees flying, the lead singer looks as if he’s trying to eviscerate anything that gets in his path — friend or foe. The music is as manic as his actions.
Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday Sunshine” is taken to even higher realms by the band’s percussive whomp, laying down a bigfoot stomp that has the floorboards bouncing as the band whoops and flogs the tune to a frothy lather.
When frontman Angelo Moore finishes his sax solo, he just heaves the unwieldy chunk of brass offstage in a no-look pass worthy of the NBA. Fishbone is in the house, and all hell’s breaking loose.
By the time Fishbone appeared on “Saturday Night Live” in 1991 covering that Sly tune, the Los Angeles-based group was in top form, and that raucous rendition boosted the band’s career and album sales for the album,“The Reality off My Surroundings” released that same year.
Together since 1979, the sextet — Angelo Moore on vocals and sax, Norwood Fisher on bass and vocals, Dirty Walter Kibby II on trumpet, Philip “Fish” Fisher on drums, Kendall Jones on guitar and Chris Dowd on keys and trombone — the band had built up momentum with its ’88 funk-soul release “Truth and Soul” with a heavy-duty rocked-out take on Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead” from the movie “Super Fly.”
The band’s 1993 album, “Give a Monkey a Brain and He’ll Swear He’s the Center of the Universe,” saw it reaching out to a metal-punk audience as well. But just before the ’Bone was set to join the Lollapalooza music tour in ’93, guitarist Jones was having mental problems and abruptly left the band.
Believing Jones had been taken prisoner by a cult, bassist Fisher attempted to break him out but was charged with kidnapping, and later acquitted. But the damage was done. Sony dropped the band and it struggled to find work. The band kept recording over the years but never again achieved its initial success. The remaining members supported themselves by touring.
Labeling Fishbone’s musical style has always been a daunting task. Ska was the first music the band learned to play.
“We thought we invented it, how ’bout that?,” Norwood Fisher said several years back in an interview for “Indy Week.” “Dirty Walt was the only one in the band who knew we really didn’t, and he brought us a Selecter record and an English Beat record, then we began to explore. We were doing punk-rock reggae, and I thought I invented something with my brand-new band.”
Few black bands before or since did the music Fishbone did. Black rock bands always struggled, with groups such as Living Color and the Bus Boys putting out great music but having a hard time getting it supported commercially by radio and labels. Bands such as No Doubt co-opted the sound Fishbone developed, and there have been countless bands usurping the ska heritage with a white boy frat sound.
But Fisher is not bitter. The band started its own label, Nuttsactor5 records.
“We’ll do it ourselves rather than complain about the industry,” he said. “So I’ll create something to shed light on the things that I love.”
The band has had a revolving cast of members over the years, but as of last year, all the originals with the exception of Jones had returned to the fold with former Miles Davis guitarist joining up in ’89 through ’97 and returning in 2017.
Hardcore fans can bone up on the band’s doings chronicled in the 2010 rockumentary “Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone,” narrated by actor Laurence Fishburne.
The band has always done things differently, as evidenced on ’02’s “The Friendliest Psychoses of All.”
“It’s three songs, but it’s longer than some people’s records,” Fisher says. “There’s about a 25-minute spoken-word freesytle jam that’s incredible. Angelo’s genius is on display ... . The first track on it is called ‘A Friendly Psychosis.’ It’s Fishbone with Primus, Buckethead, Blowfly, Weapon of Choice’s Meganut, J-Ro & Styles of Tha Lik-Wit Crew, George Clinton, David Baerwald, and ... who else is on there? Fishbone — did I say that there’s a lot of people on that tracks?”
Fishbone’s latest, the 2014 EP “Intrinsically Intertwined” sounds like a psychedelic, ska-ed-up P-Funk Moore still frenetically fronting the band with a massive vocal attack.
It’s a future that Fisher predicted more than 10 years ago, a bond that’s withstood the test of trials and time.
“Its this music. The love of experimentation, and we understand our legacy to a certain extent. But it’s fun being us because we created it,” he said.
“We’re committed to each other on a brotherly level. We’ve been together a long time. There’s some strength in the building. We were friends first-bottom line.”