More than four decades have passed since the members of Fishbone first played together, and it may be another 40 before they are finished. The years in between have been documented in great detail across all forms of media, which is good for the band themselves, because they've forgotten much of their own history. That first decade, in particular, carried Fishbone so far, so fast, that it was all they could do to keep up with their own momentum. Even now, Fishbone wrestle with the scope of their legacy, which is probably easier to view from the outside.
At least 21 men have put in work under the Fishbone name over the years, resulting in at least 23 distinct incarnations of the group, but the version booked to headline the Rising Vibes festival this Saturday is about as close to the original lineup as we've seen in 20 years. Only two musicians have performed in every single incarnation, though: bassist John Norwood Fisher and lead singer Angelo Moore, who met as students at Hale Junior High School in Woodland Hills, California.
Early, epochal appearances by the band in Orlando included shows at Visage in 1988, Rollins College (!) in 1991, and the third Lollapalooza tour in '93. "Guns, Republicans and racism are what I think of when I think of Orlando," Moore says via phone from the Medicine Cabinet, his studio in Los Angeles. "But at the same, whenever Fishbone came to town, we always had a lot of fun." True to his word, they have played the area at least a dozen times.
At this point, Fishbone has performed for two or three generations of fans, and the diversity of ages pleases them just as much as the diversity of demographics. "What's really crazy," says Moore, "is that sometimes we'll see a couple, and they actually brought their baby."
They've worked crowds smaller than the band itself, and they've also played for upward of 100,000 at events like Lollapalooza or Glastonbury, but size doesn't matter nearly as much as the passion of the crowd.
Fishbone made an immediate splash in the Southern California underground with their 1985 debut EP, Party at Ground Zero, and soon commenced what would become three decades of constant touring. Their unique look and high-energy, genre-bending style made them a popular opening act for peers like Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Beastie Boys, as well as headliners in their own right.
Fishbone went on to release six studio albums between 1986 and 2006, as well as four live albums, and four compilations, many of which are now considered classics of the alternative music canon. They've also made 18 videos and five DVDs, not to mention guest appearances on albums by Little Richard, Curtis Mayfield, Blackstreet, Eurythmics and Ol' Dirty Bastard. Besides all this, the members have done a lot on their own. Moore, who also plays saxophone, drums and theremin, is dropping his ninth solo album later this year, and he performs regularly under the name Dr. Madd Vibe. He's also guested on 21 albums by artists like Bad Brains, Jane's Addiction, Everlast and Gwen Stefani. Moore tours on occasion with an augmented version of the band called Fishbone Special Forces Ensemble.
The band even worked with original Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, who introduced the band to mainstream audiences when she featured them in her Back to the Beach movie in 1987. That wasn't the only time the band dabbled in film, contributing to the soundtracks of movies as varied as Say Anything and I'm Gonna Git You Sucka.
Fishbone's sound reflects the vast scope of their influences, including Parliament, James Brown, Bad Brains, Louis Jordan, Circle Jerks and Fela Kuti. Their original name, "Megatron," was not, in fact, a reference to the notorious leader of the Decepticons, but rather to the BMW M12 engine. They've been around so long that the original band logo was created on a first-generation Macintosh computer, but they have held up much better than those old things. These icons are evergreen.
– This story appears in the Feb. 19, 2020, print issue of Orlando Weekly. Get our top picks for the best events in Orlando every Thursday morning with our weekly Events newsletter.