How do you give so much to so few for so little? On some level, the members of Fishbone must have made peace with the course their career has taken. How else could they keep going out night after night at full-throttle, putting on an arena-level show for club-sized audiences at 15 bucks a head?
Everyone from Gwen Stefani to Flea, Ice-T to Laurence Fishburne all agree: These influential genre-bending musical chemists out of Los Angeles never reached the heights of fame they rightly deserved. Now, after three decades on the road, the remaining original members (Angelo Moore, John Norwood Fisher and “Dirty” Walter A. Kibby II) and four newcomers soldier on wherever the road takes them, playing gigs from Slovenia to Coachella and all points in between. And that’s just in the past three months. Saturday night, the steamroller arrived at the Putnam Den in Saratoga Springs.
It was the longest day of the year, but it was still hours past sunset before Fishbone finally took the stage. An acoustic opener from Eli Hargrave started late, then a cutting, magnetic set from New York City-based Banooba started even later. Fishbone time didn’t arrive until 11:30.
And suddenly, there it was in full color and 120 decibels: The sound and the fury that defied categorization when the band first came to light in the late ’80s still hasn’t lost its edge. There was palpable joy for the opening horns of “Party at Ground Zero” because the party had finally started. It gained steam as they ripped through classics like “Ugly” and “Everyday Sunshine,” along with the more recent “Whipper Snapper” and “The Suffering.” Tough not to sing along with “Ma and Pa,” the greatest party song ever written about divorce.
And in case you were wondering if Moore would still be crowd surfing, the dynamic front man said yes during “Give It Up.” Whether crowd surfing is still a good idea at age 48 is debatable. But Moore takes on a concert the way Earl Campbell took on linebackers: Head-down, full-speed, with no regard for how he’d feel in the morning. Moore worked the vocals and the saxophone like he was still auditioning for the gig. And it’s safe to say Moore (AKA Dr. Madd Vibe) played the hottest theramin solos in all of Saratoga that weekend.
Fishbone subscribe to the Springsteenean ideal in which the audience should drop from exhaustion long before the band. Even though, on this night, they had every right to quit. The cable on Moore’s microphone kept coming undone, earning frustrated head shakes from Dirty Walt, but the band kept on grinding. It was just another indignity for a group who deserve better gear and bigger crowds.
Watching these guys play a small club in Saratoga Springs is like seeing the British artist Banksy anonymously selling his million-dollar sketches on a Manhattan street corner for pocket change, as he did earlier this year. Only Banksy meant it as wry social commentary on the subjective value of art. Fishbone is playing to 300 people a night because that’s how they make a living (such as it is: in the 2010 documentary Everyday Sunshine, Moore was so short on cash he had to move back in with his mother). But for one night in the Den, their art was priceless. The crowd believed it, and the band lived it, proving a Fishbone show remains a mind-blowing musical experience. At any price.