“The chemistry of this lineup can’t be f*cked with.”
Fishbone bassist Norwood Fisher was sipping tea on a couch in the band’s green room ahead of their performance at the Fillmore Silver Spring on Aug. 23. The lineup he gleefully referred to is the stuff of the legends – the original Fishbone lineup, which had finally brought its reunion, strike that, its “F*ck Racism” tour to the East Coast.
“It’s almost like it’s better than ever,” Norwood said. “Everybody went their own directions and came back with some extras in the experience department.”
Fishbone inched closer towards a proper reunion last year when Norwood’s younger brother, drummer Philip “Fish” Fisher, and guitarist John Bigham both rejoined the band after a nearly 20-year absence to perform the musically heavy, politically and socially poignant 1996 album “Chim Chim’s Badass Revenge.”
“He created the space and no one that’s came after him in the space has done it like him,” Norwood said of Fish as a percussionist.
Missing from the mix on that tour was original trombonist, keyboardist and vocalist Christopher Dowd, who is now back in the band after departing two decades ago as well.
“Once he was back in, the fine-tuned machine that it was popped out and it was like ‘oh, that was what was missing this whole time,’” Norwood said. “Maybe I didn’t know what was missing, but when Chris put his part on and it was locked up, I was like ‘aw man, that’s [it].’”
It’s the sound of a band that was signed just out of high school; a band that would captivate audiences in 1991 with their “Saturday Night Live” performances of “Sunless Saturday” and “Everyday Sunshine”; a band that would tear up the stage on Lollapalooza in 1993; a band that could seamlessly incorporate ska, funk, punk rock and metal into its sound.
The mid-’90s would be a tumultuous time for the band with original members departing and Sony Records dropping the band. While the band would fill out its roster with an all-star cast of musicians for the better part of two decades, there remained a longing in the Fishbone fan base for what many called the best live band they’ve ever seen.
Baltimore and D.C.-area fans got their wish when the Fisher brothers, Dowd, Bigham, vocalist and saxophonist Angelo Moore and trumpeter and vocalist Walter Kibby came to Silver Spring in the middle of their first East Coast run after stints on the West Coast and Europe.
While original guitarist Kendall Jones is not a part of the reunion, fans and promoters alike still spoke of this being the original lineup – a distinction Bigham, who previously worked with Miles Davis, earned as he was the seventh member to join the original six when he became Fishbone’s second guitarist in 1989.
The OGs (as fans are affectionately calling this lineup) plowed through a monster 26-song setlist of classic Fishbone tunes from the group’s first three albums and debut EP, including songs long absent from the band’s live repertoire.
The show, which opened with the circus-jazz of “Hide Behind My Glasses,” featured Fishbone staples like the bright funk of “Everyday Sunshine,” slap-bass theatrics of “Bonin’ in the Boneyard,” spastic ska track “Alcoholic” and the band’s signature hard rock riffing on Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead.” Dowd took front and center to sing “Those Days Are Gone” and “Pouring Rain,” songs that haven’t graced Fishbone shows in years.
And that chemistry Norwood spoke of ahead of the show was on full display as the band moved through punk rockers like “Subliminal Facism” and “Pressure” to the horn-heavy hard rockin’ “Behavior Control Technician” to upbeat classics like “A Selection” and “Question of Life.”
Fishbone demonstrated its full musical prowess before its encore break in “Sunless Saturday.” The thrashy, metal-esque track fit for banging your head while singing along to the catchy vocal harmonies leaves one with a sense fans undoubtedly had all night – a band this talented and genre-defying should have been HUGE.
An encore of fan favorites capped off the show – “Slow Bus Movin’ (Howard Beach Party),” “Lyin’ Ass Bitch,” “Skankin’ to the Beat” and “Party at Ground Zero.”
While a group of fans planned their travel to Brooklyn to do it again the next day, a wowed crowd surely asked itself, what’s next? Will there be – dare they ask – new music from the OG Fishbone?
“We’ve been sharing music with each other and jamming and being a band, being creative and looking forward see what new material might feel like,” Norwood answered. “That’s a part of the process, and in the next year it’ll all start coming into play.”
In the meantime, Fishbone is getting back to into the mindset that made them such a multi-faceted band in the first place.
“It makes it really fun to be in a situation where there’s constant growth from all angles musically,” Norwood said, “as human beings, as friends, as family.”
About THE BEAT: Marc Shapiro, a lifelong musician and concert-goer, writes about regional and national musicians, concerts, festivals and the music industry. He is managing editor at the Baltimore Jewish Times, a sister publication of Baltimore Style.