Fishbone at The Garden Hall, August 19th 2022
Less than a year before the pandemic started I saw Angelo Moore walking in Shibuya. I checked, it was May 2019, the last time Fishbone came to Japan. I was on my way to work and saw him in front of Don Quijote. He was wearing a red fez hat just like you will see him wear in a video. I thought about approaching him, asking for a picture, but I was too shy. Not only was I not going to their show that evening, the truth is that I was not at all familiar with his band's output. In the nineties MTV Latin America had their collaboration with Los Fabulosos Cadillacs on heavy rotation. That was the extent of my knowledge of that band’s music. For some reason I wrote them off due to what I felt was an overwhelming hyper expressive frontman. Was I wrong; probably not about the hyper expressive frontman, but about writing them off as a novelty act.
I corrected this wrong during the lockdown. First with the self-titled EP and then with the documentary Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone. I don’t think it’ll be an exaggeration calling that EP a masterpiece, quite possibly one of the best ever made in that format. An eclectic mix of genres displaying amazing songwriting skills, acute social awareness and outstanding musician chops all wrapped in a distinctive sense of humor that will become their trademark, a smart way to avoid the preachy label and to push people’s buttons as deep as possible. The documentary unmasked the contradictions and complexities of the soldiers among their ranks. It was also an indictment of the inherent racism of the music and -by extent- the entertainment industry. It kind of answered the question of why RHCP is the biggest band in the world and not Fishbone.
That two-punch combination was to me the perfect introduction to the band, I explored their discography and was not disappointed. Other than the dated production from the eighties and early nineties, which doesn’t bother me at all, the first four records are pretty much flawless, filled to the brim with earworm choruses, ska-punk with dashes of funk, gospel, jazz and metal including heavy nods to the masters (Parliament-Funkadelic). Those are my kinds of ingredients. In the documentary, though, is said that they could never capture their live energy and sound on record. The one thing I regretted the most about not getting into them earlier was missing their live shows.
Fortunately I got a chance to see them and -again- I couldn’t have been less disappointed. It was my first visit to The Garden Hall in Ebisu. it is the kind of cold indistinctive venue that abound in Tokyo, with good sound and comfortably enough. I got there early to secure a spot by the railing and waited until the opening band started their set. I think it’s the first time for me to see the same band back to back, once as a headliner, the following as an opener. This time the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra relied much more on their instrumental sound, the set was a lot more ska jazz oriented than last time. No Caravan this time, but a nice cover of One Step Beyond instead. After a somewhat less epic Paradise Has No Border (less epic compared to when I saw them last month), they invited Angelo Moore to sing their collaboration tune All Ska is One, ending their one hour slot on a high note, despite the mid-tempo pace of the tune. It was a treat to have them as openers.
Fishbone took the stage unceremoniously around eight thirty and from a catalog that includes all kinds of briskly paced ditties they chose Unyielding Conditioning as their opening song. A confident opener that followed the mid-tempo pace of the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra closer and that proved the perfect choice to set the stage of what came next. Cholly from their first album was followed by an early appearance of one of their best known songs, Everyday Sunshine. We witnessed Angelo Moore’s kinetic antics choosing from different kinds of horns and reeds from song to song, handling the theremin and moving mics left and right. He reminded me of the late Mark E. Smith from The Fall who will also do the same with amps’ knobs in their live shows.
We got to see for of the six original members. Christopher Dowd on keys, trombone and vocals, Dirty Walt Kibby on trumpet and vocals and of course Norwood on bass and Angelo Moore on vocals and several other instruments. The moments when that three horn section hit, like on Party at Ground Zero, for example, were either ska or funk heaven. John Steward on drums matched with every single style thrown at him and Mark Phillips brought it on guitar on stuff like Freddie’s Dead; not for nothing the man was wearing a Super Fly t-shirt. The energy of the 6 men on stage was relentless, that energy included political commentary, dance moves and chops up to the wazoo. I loved the Funkadelic vibe of Bonin’ in the Boneyard and the fact that they closed the main set with Skankin’ to the Beat and Party at Ground Zero back to back.
They returned to the stage and encored with the aforementioned Curtis Mayfield cover and closed with Sunless Saturday, leaving on a high note after an hour and a half of breathtaking renditions of some of their gems. Saying that Fishbone is amazing in concert has become a cliche, but it can’t be said enough: Fishbone is indeed an amazing live band.