With seemingly every alternative rock band of note reunited to dolefully tour the classics, Los Angeles band Fishbone remains a vital exception to the "play the hits" rule. For 33 years, the group has experimented and evolved, incorporating influences including ska, punk, hardcore, psychedelic rock, soul, funk, reggae, and jazz into a varied and uncompromisingly diverse discography. The band hasn't released solely flawless records, but it's never failed to issue interesting ones.
"That's part of the legacy of the band," bassist and founding member John Norwood Fisher explains. "The minute we stagnate and become a band that just goes over where we've been . . . maybe that's okay at some point, but I'm just not there yet. I'm trying to figure out: What haven't we done? What can keep the vibe fresh?"
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Fishbone's latest, 2014's Intrinsically Intertwined EP, opens with "Unstuck," a song that ranks among the group's best. Under soulful vocals by Angelo "Dr. Madd Vibe" Moore, the band churns a progressive, knotty reggae groove with touches of jazz fusion, funky time changes, and double-bass drum work. Moore sings of the "phone that rings within," employing beautifully anachronistic gospel idiom. "Unstuck" represents the best of Fishbone; more than three decades in they're still exploring new sounds.
"The fact is, that's something we allow ourselves to do," Fisher says. "We allow ourselves to be open to chart new territory. I personally love all of the stages of the band. There's very little output I'll say, 'I can't stand listening to that' [about]. There are some things, but not much. Within that there's the joy of discovery. I never want to let go of that -- that brings me back to being 11, 12, 13, when we were discovering how to be a band, what route we wanted to take."
In conjunction with the new EP, the band has launched a mockumentary-style "reality" show on YouTube, The Fishbone Reality. The comedy program grew out of the band's promotion of the 2010 documentary Everything Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone, and a desire to "lighten the load" of recent controversies, chiefly the 2014 ruling that the band would have to pay over $1.4 million to Kimberly Myers, a fan whose skull and collarbone were broke after Moore stage-dived into the crowd at a 2010 show in Philadelphia.
"It's not over," Fisher says of the lawsuit's ramifications, "but it definitely helps to be able to sit back and laugh at yourself a little bit."
Coupled with the sometimes weighty content of documentary and the legal strife, Fisher thought the YouTube show would help add some levity to the band's public persona, that Fishbone would be able to "kind of clown on ourselves with this web series."
"Life gets heavy," Fisher says. "Things gets overwhelming and it's seemingly never-ending. You can love something and have it become difficult. That's the syndrome."
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Fishbone is scheduled to perform Saturday, March 14, as part of the Viva PHX festival. Twin Shadow, Coolio, Andrew W.K., Andrew Jackson Jihad, and many more are also scheduled to perform.
Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.