Thinking back over what I listened to in high school is like looking through my yearbook: pretty embarrassing. For every band or musician I still play, there are three or four more—the Kajagoogoos of their day.
For some people, Fishbone epitomizes that type of group: a band from which they once took something, then moved on with their life. Not so for me. I mean, it's not like I go around blasting “VTTLOTFDGF,” but I do have that first essential disc, plus another early EP, and I've owned several others from their catalog at various times. I still have Fishbone's self-titled major-label debut on a cassette tape, no less, and when the band plays the House of Blues on Thursday, I suspect there will be many like me in the audience.
Despite internal strife (they're now down to just three original members: sax player/Theramin-ist Angelo Moore, bassist Norwood Fisher and trumpeter Walter Kibby II), Fishbone ages well in my record collection. I look back fondly on the time they almost got me killed—twice in one night!—going to see them at the Roxy in West Hollywood. In fairness, the fashion cops should have shot me for wearing those tight, yellow, '60s-era, permanent-press slacks—pants that so severely slowed the progress of my jaywalk across Sunset Boulevard that the driver of a Buick sedan almost flattened me. Coming home—with five of us crammed into a second-generation Civic hatchback—our driver started to nod off, and we crossed all lanes of freeway traffic on a curve before he awoke and flashed me a toothy, sheepish grin.
That was the same night he taped me a copy of No Doubt's first four-song demo.
But I don't just remember Fishbone for close shaves with other people's music. Their own complicated brand of funk metal made skanking in place all night while playing a sax or getting stabbed onstage as Angelo once did—all in dark shades and a three-button suit—look fun, even easy. And eventually it made me feel smart.
In high school, Fishbone seemed like a mere party band, thanks to such songs as “Party at Ground Zero,” “Ugly” and other jams. But when I was ready, I started hearing the subtext and found the political influences that seasoned their later work. Fishbone started thinking in the studio on their second record, on everything from the instrumental “Post Cold War Politics” to the self-explanatory “Ghetto Soundwave” and “Properties of Propaganda (Fuk This Shit on Up).”
Sadly, I lost track of the 'Bone right around their fifth record (they've cut eight to date, according to their website, www.fishbone.net), right around the time I started listening to things other than reggae, funk and ska. But I'll always remember them as one of the first bands I discovered to have hidden depths—even if the first song that pops into my head is “Party at Ground Zero.”
Fishbone performs with La Banda Skalavera and Starpool at the House of Blues, 1530 Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583. Thurs., Feb. 5, 8 p.m. $15. All ages.