Wiltern, Dec 1
Strange and depressing things were afoot in Los Angeles on Saturday night. Up until arriving at the Wiltern with my buddy Cedar and seeing the marquee, I was under the impression that Fishbone was headlining the show in their own hometown. To my surprise they weren’t - the top of the bill was held by San Diego based Slightly Stoopid - a band I really didn’t really know anything about. Perhaps, I figured, they were the newest Southern California pop-punk phenomenon – a watered down NOFX or, God forbid, Blink 182. But whoever they were, with Fishbone on the bill, could they really be that bad?
Then I saw something. While waiting in line out front, a limo pulled up and a girl in a baby black dress with long legs and white stilettos got out and attached herself to the back of the pack. Now, don’t get me wrong, I would have eaten lamb chops and mint jelly off her feet if she’d let me, but another night, another place. What was a girl like this doing at a Fishbone show? You can’t skank in stilettos – might put someone’s eye out.
Something was going on here. What was the deal with this Slightly Stoopid and their poor spelling?
“They’re, like, the new Sublime,” my neighbor in line, 19-year-old Nick from “Diego,” told me. “Probably 90 percent these people are here to see them. You’re in for a real treat.”
A new Sublime? A real treat? I was more than skeptical, but I’d give it a shot.
Cedar and I got through the massive, hour-long security line just as Fishbone was finishing up their first song. Angelo, after more than two decades of touring, still the same manic stage presence, was using mnemonic devices to get the crowd to remember the band’s name. “What’s our name? Fishbone! Say it again! Fishbone! Who came to party? Fishbone!”
Photos by Cedar Sherbert and Matthew Fleischer
Faced with relatively lukewarm responses to his entreaties, Angelo finally asked the crowd, “Do you know us?” He got some cheers, but I wasn’t buying it and neither was he. “Don’t lie to me. I’ll come out there and touch you - introduce myself,” he said, before launching into a frenzied version of “Alcoholic.”
It sounded good. They sounded good.
Though infinitely more Angelo-centric than they used to be now that he and Norwood are the only original members left, the band was tight. John McKnight, who’s been with the band off and on since 2001, was an especially welcome presence - his guitar work adding layers and complexity to heavier songs like “Let Dem Ho’s Fight” and, later on “Lyin' Ass Bitch,” filling out the horn section nicely with his trombone.
Norwood is a fucking rock star on bass. Now that he’s taken over most of the songwriting work, in the absence of Kendall Jones and Christopher Dowd, the once eclectic band has pretty much united behind his funky, R & B inspired vision. No more metal ballads, but that’s OK. He held it down all night -- slapping away, calm as could be, a lone dread swinging around wildly from beneath the brim of his hat – seemingly the only thing not under his control.
Angelo, of course, was all over the place. Cartwheelin’ across the stage and showing the ladies his asscrack.
Still, something was missing. I looked over and saw Cedar frowning and asked him what was up. “They’re great and all,” he replied, “but it doesn’t feel like a Fishbone show.”
Sadly, he was right. The vibe in the crowd was far less Fishbone than it was Pacific Beach on a Friday night - best typified by the drunken frat boy who sidled up to me during “Bonin’ in the Boneyard” and repeatedly shouted “Big tits!” in my ear while gesticulating wildly in the direction of an empty stairwell. Shortly after our encounter he fell flat on his ass and stayed there for a few minutes before being nabbed by security.
Slightly stupid would be a generous assessment at best.
When it came time for the headlining act I finally understood what I was in the midst of. Seeing Slightly Stoopid reminded me why I left San Diego years ago. To move back in with my parents. In suburban Massachusetts. In the winter.
It’s not that they were bad – the band knows how to play their instruments and there’s nothing overly offensive about the music – but, like the city, it was all just so mind-numbingly pleasant and dull. It suddenly made me understand the logic of people who torture small animals just to feel again.
The music shared elements of Sublime’s punky, white-guy reggae, but lacked Bradley J’s songwriting ability. Nothing especially catchy. And though they had two rude-boy horn players and a conga guy in back, their sound wasn’t any bigger than Sublime’s either.
The unintelligible onstage banter wasn't any better.
“Blah blah blah, fuck the PO-lice, blah blah, know what I’m saying?” asked bass player Miles Doughty.
Cedar summed the whole scene up fairly succinctly. “White guys toasting,” he said shaking his head. “Can we go?”
Again, he was right. Bradley J pulled it all off I suppose – but you sirs, are no Bradley J.
Still, I’ll give Slightly Stupid their due – they let a legendary and infinitely more talented band go on before them, probably well aware that, musically speaking, they'd get blown out of the water every night. That's a nice thing to do for a band that, apparently, needs the help.
Fishbone is simply too good to let fade away. Judging from their performance, they're into their new music and working as hard as ever. In a musical universe filled with neutered indie rock and coffee-shop malaise, it’s good to be reminded that there are bands still out there capable of being sexually and politically provocative. But for anyone who has ever liked Fishbone or wants some music that might help them reconnect with their genitals, for God’s sake go out and buy the new album. Get these guys some attention. Because the scene at the Wiltern was beyond depressing.