Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler’s documentary follows the meteoric rise and slow-motion fall of Fishbone, an all-black band that defied easy labeling – and, not surprisingly, never truly found its mainstream music niche.
Originating from South Central Los Angeles, Fishbone arrived in the early 1980s with a visceral mix of punk, ska and hard rock that was performed in a frenetically theatrical style. Black-oriented radio rarely played their songs – comic Damon Wayans joked that most African Americans thought Fishbone was the name of a soul food restaurant – but the band’s lack of hit songs also kept them off the rock radio channels.
For a number of years, the band had harvested a cult following via a lucrative touring career, and on rare occasions they found their way into the mainstream spotlight – including an amusing guest appearance opposite Annette Funicello in the comedy film “Back to the Beach” and a guest spot on “Saturday Night Live.” However, internal conflicts among the band members and dramatically shifting changes in popular music tastes helped to fuel the waning of their star.
Anderson and Metzler capture a wealth of surprisingly candid interviews with the band’s various members, most notably frontman Angelo Moore, who is seen living with his mother after he was evicted from his home. A number of rarely seen music videos and concert footage shows the band at its joyful peak – and it is a shame that no one ever created a feature-length concert film, since Fishbone’s spontaneous power was never quite captured in an album.
In a truly embarrassing sequence, the film presents one of Fishbone’s more recent gigs: a sparsely attended open-air concert in Hungary, where most of the audience appeared to be senior citizens. Yet Moore and bassist Norwood Fisher continue to push ahead (the band has a new album out this fall on the DC Jam Records label), and their indefatigable spirit to push forward creates an emotional high that makes this film a truly wonderful experience.