Last night's Fishbone concert at the City Museum was a reminder that there hasn't been a band quite like the California septet before or since. Certainly the band has some pretty obvious forebears; Sly Stone's multicultural rock & roll, Toots & the Maytals' slinky ska, and Funkadelic's paranoid grooves are all key elements. But the combination of those forces makes Fishbone stand alone, even 25 years after its debut. Not many ska bands can rip through heavy-metal guitar solos. Very few funk bands use a theremin. No hardcore bands employ five-part gospel harmonies.
The two-hour performance proved that even if Fishbone hasn't produced much new earth-shattering music in the past decade or so, bandleader Angelo Moore and company can still summon an amazing amount of energy and whip the crowd into a pogo-dancing, body-surfing mass.
This is the second time that Fishbone has played at the City Museum, and the urban wonderland fits nicely with the group's borderless, kitchen-sink approach to music. And the place isn't a bad venue to see a show, as long as you don't care about hearing or seeing the band clearly. The City Museum's "stage" is merely a foot-high platform, and despite the best efforts of the sound man, it's hard to make a big cement box sound good. But for a band like Fishbone, such obstacles are part of the fun. Crowd can't hear you clearly? Play louder. Crowd can't see the lead singer? The lead singer will come to the crowd on a sea of outstretched arms.
The set began with perhaps Fishbone's smoothest song, the rocksteady soul number "Unyielding Conditioning." Taking advantage of its horn players, the band stretched the song out, allowing Moore to take solos on both tenor and alto saxophone. The start of the set touched on many of the aforementioned genres: Keyboardist Dre Gipson stepped forward for a straight reggae groove on the intro to "The Suffering," during which massively afro'd guitarist Rock George (formerly of Suicidal Tendencies) gave some metal shreddage to the tune.
Fishbone never was the tightest of bands - Moore's sax playing, like his onstage persona, is tough to pin down, and there are so many left turns in these songs that a straight groove is hard to come by. But on "Bonin' in the Boneyard," the band's most uptown-funk song, the band ripped through the horn lines at nearly double the speed of the Truth & Soul recording. It was one of many reminders that these players haven't lost a step - they've only gotten deeper, weirder and wilder as they hit middle age.
The second half of the set hit on most of Fishbone's biggest hits - the hyper-ska of "Ma & Pa" made for some good skanking, and "Lyin' Ass Bitch" fomented one of the biggest pits of the night. Reconstituted rude boys and aging soccer hooligans took turns on each other's shoulders, and the giant stingray that hangs from the City Museum was briefly in danger of being liberated from its moorings. Fishbone certainly knew how to play to its audience - as the crowd continued to mix it up during "Alcoholic," George slipped into the iconic riff from "Iron Man" and the band followed suit for a few bars. If the night wasn't bro-tacular enough already, the Black Sabbath sealed the deal. And like the seasoned pros they are, the members of Fishbone seamlessly slipped back into the groove of "Alcoholic."
After a menacing version of Curtis Mayfield's "Freddie's Dead" (another Truth & Soul standout), the proper set ended with "Party at Ground Zero," Fishbone's first single and still its calling card. Two encores ensued, made up mostly of the band's shortest, fastest songs like "Skankin' to the Beat" and "Deep Inside." For the faithful left at the front of the stage, Fishbone could have played another hour of frenetic, psychotic soul music.