Funk-punk genre-bending rockers Fishbone never achieved the same head-turning notoriety or impact nationally that the band had in Los Angeles in the 1980s and early 1990s. (The punk fury of its live shows in local clubs wasn't easy to translate onto recordings.) Other genre benders from the city, however, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane's Addiction, fared much better than Fishbone outside the city. Fishbone suffered some internal problems as well as marketing obstacles, changed membership and somehow has been maintained by leaders Norwood Fisher and Angelo Moore. The band performs at Tipitina's Friday night and at Voodoo Sunday. Meanwhile, a documentary about the band, Everyday Sunshine, screens at Zeitgeist(7:30 p.m. Friday through Thursday), and members of the band and the filmmaker will be on hand for Q&A sessions this weekend.
The trailer above distills the film well. (Review here.) The first minute of the trailer tries to locate the film in racial divides and politics of the 1980s. (The film stretches to root the band's identity in black migration from the South to Los Angeles after the Depression and into wartime manufacturing — it comes off as somewhat of a stretch to say those broad social changes shaped a band that was marked by its uniqueness.) It's true the band was between two worlds — a fixture in the (predominantly white) LA punk scene but buttonholed into what one Columbia employee refers to as the label's black music section.
The story of the band never realizing what many thought was its potential isn't only about race. And the film becomes more about the personal issues between band members. That material begs for a voiceover different than the somber and heroic tones of Laurence Fishburne's narration. The band bottomed out hard, and much of the film focuses on the lean years. Angelo Moore seems stuck in denial, living with his mother but clinging to his self-concept of being the frontman of a significant rock band. At times, I expected Sly from the Family Stone to wander into the picture and talk shop with him. For a while, Moore took up the persona of Dr. Madd Vibe, introduced a theremin to the band and that diversion didn't help anything.
Preserving the band may have been theraputic for Moore's and Fisher's friendship, but the film seems to suggest that the band is far greater than history has treated it. Perhaps, but that comes off more like the devotion of a fan than an analysis. It's also possible the band did as much as it was capable of, and perhaps all of the members should have moved on. That's a choice the members had to make for themselves, but I came away thinking that even if there was great work left undone, by the time all the strife settled, the band was coasting on its former reputation, not creating innovative new music. Many artists have coasted on their reputations, but it doesn't seem compelling to root for Fishbone to be able to do that. Fisher's maturity in dealing with it all is one of the more inspiring highlights of the film. Tangential but entertaining are Ice-T's comments on how Los Angeles' rap scene regarded Fishbone.