Live: Fishbone/Heavy Mojo/Natives of the New Dawn/World's Most Dangerous Band

Fishbone pic #1
(l to r) Dre Gipson, John McKnight, Curtis Storey, Angelo Moore, Norwood Fisher,
John Steward, & Rocky George. Photo courtesy of Fishbone.

THE MERIDIAN -- 12/08/08: Looks like it's once again time for my annual Fishbone Show ReviewTM. Well, at least I thought it was an annual thing, but a quick SCR search reveals my last live show review for the 'Bone was back in 2000. I know I've seen them at least four times since then, so I must be slacking off as I creep toward my tenth year of Space City Rock-itude.
At any rate, I know I mention the mighty Fishbone a lot on this site, even if I'm not reviewing a show or CD by them -- Fishbone pretty much sets the bar that I judge just about every other band by...and most times, the other bands fall way short. Nearly 30 years into their career (and with only two founding members remaining), this band can still eat any other band alive. For real.
Since I apparently slacked off on a write-up of my last few 'Bone experiences, let me sort of recap those shows as a preface to this one. The April 2007 show at Fitzgerald's was the first time I had seen the band with a full lineup (meaning full horns, two guitars, keys, bass, drums) since probably Lollapalooza, or the tour just before that (as I recall, original guitarist Kendall Jones had left before the Houston Lolla date, so tourmate and huge 'Bone fan Jerry Cantrell came out and thickened up a few of the songs).
Going back even further, the band had most of it's current members at their Engine Room date in June of 2005 (opening for Slightly Stoopid), but as awesome as that show was, it didn't seem that the lineup had fully gelled yet. By the time the Fitz date rolled around, the group (which then included stalwarts Angelo Moore and Norwood Fisher, along with John Steward on drums, John McKnight on keys/trombone/guitar, Rocky George on guitar, Dre Gipson on keys/vocals, and Curtis Storey on trumpet) had fully solidified as a force to be reckoned with. The sound was massive, and the energy was as high as it had been back in the late '80s/early '90s. Most impressive was the full, gospel-tinged vocal harmonies that the entire "front line" of the band had developed. The shit sounded tight, man. Fishbone was back to full power, and it was a wonder to behold.
Fast forward to now: December 2008, at The Meridian. We arrive just as The World's Most Dangerous Band takes the stage. Noisy, punk-ish rock. Eh. They at least seemed to be having fun. Not my thing. Thankfully, it was a short set.
Next up were Natives of the New Dawn. They had an interesting Jamiroquai-ish thing going on, and were pretty good, until their second vocalist/rapper guy started in. Not that he was bad -- his flow actually reminded me somewhat of Del Tha Funkee Homosapien -- but I think the music suffered because of it. I would much rather have listened to the keyboardist/vocalist's white-boy funk delivery. And I mean that as a compliment. Again, a short set for this band, as well.
Finally, we had Heavy Mojo from the ATL. They delivered an interesting hip-hop/rock blend that immediately brought The Roots to mind (as I guess usually happens these days), although with heavier guitar riffage. Not too bad. I can actually see things happening for these guys if they stick with it. I think they've already landed a deal with a major label, so hopefully they will. Heavy Mojo had a short set, too, and I actually found myself wanting to see a couple more songs from them -- which is rare for my old curmudgeon ass.
Of course, the short sets led me to believe that Fishbone was going to take the stage sooner rather than later, and play a long-ass show. Not the case, as I think they actually came out 30 minutes later than the club's posted time. Things like this are more important to me now that (as stated above) I'm becoming a curmudgeonly old bastard. I'm not trying to be an a-hole about it, but just so everyone in the band/management knows: I would easily pay twice as much to see "An Evening With Fishbone" with no opening acts, and maybe two or three sets with breaks. That way we get all the 'Bone we can handle and still get home at a decent hour on a Sunday night. If the Melvins can do it, so can you. Just a thought.
Anyway, off soapbox. Back to the Fishbone State of the Union. The 2007 tour lineup is still intact, save for the fact that Mervin Campbell has stepped into the trumpet slot (I hear Curtis Storey is recovering from an illness, so here's hoping he gets better). Mr. Campbell definitely "got off on the good foot" with his James Brown-style stage antics and energy, so he's a welcome addition.
As you would expect, this incarnation of the group has only gotten tighter with time and touring. I would actually say that Fishbone 2008 rivals the "classic" Reality Of My Surroundings lineup. I know them's big words, but I mean it. As soon as the band launched into an extended vamp of "Unyielding Conditioning," the crowd went nuts. I could tell the band was into it, to boot -- they were all smiles, laughter, and manic energy. The forecast for "flying fish" looked pretty good.
Slight side note for context: between the release of 1993's Give a Monkey A Brain..., and, well, somewhere around the Engine Room show, Fishbone got pretty dark and angry. Of course, they were dealing with losing founding members, getting dicked around by record labels, watching pale imitations (literal and figurative) of themselves get super-huge and rich, and all kinds of other bullshit. Don't misconstrue what I'm saying -- I understand, I get it, I sympathize, and I love all of the metalled-out, angry material that the band put out as a result of that period. As a result, though, their live shows in that era almost seemed to be barely-contained musical outbursts of rage, aggression, and disenfranschisement. Again, I was (and still am) all about it. I can relate. The thing is, I had forgotten how happy-go-lucky and carefree the band had been pre-1995. It seemed that the crowd-surfing, back-flipping, cane-twirling aspect of Fishbone had fallen by the wayside.
Apparently not for good. This Meridian show was the most animated and happy I had seen Angelo Moore in years. Ditto for the rest of the band. At around the third song in ("Everyday Sunshine," fittingly enough), I knew this was going to be something really special. And sure enough, when the song reached its gospel rave-up climax, Angelo was up on the barricade, perched precipitously over the crowd, urging everyone to sing along. Which we all did -- at the top of our lungs. Both Angelo and Dre Gipson (who has slowly grown into his own as the "second vocalist," filling the void left by Chris Dowd and Dirty Walt) took leaps into the crowd for the trademark "flying fish" maneuver. Just like old times.
Fishbone tore through a career-spanning setlist that included everything from "Ma & Pa" to "One Planet People" to "Sunless Saturday" to their covers of Sublime's "Date Rape" and Tupac's version of "Changes." They also played a few tracks from their newest album, Still Stuck in Your Throat, and those songs stacked up pretty well against the "classics" -- going from the dirty funk of "Behind Closed Doors" to the spazz-psychedelia-metal of "Let Dem Hoes Fight" to the sweet gospel-ska of "Forever Moore" (a song Angelo wrote for his daughter).
Yeah, Fishbone's still got it. My only complaint has to do with such an amazing band playing to a room that was barely half full. Granted, our enthusiasm probably made up for lack of numbers, but every show Fishbone plays should be sold out. No band alive can touch them, and they must be seen to be believed. Make sure you're there next time. END