Written and Photographed by: Rev TJ McGlinchey
I got an email from their press agent Zoe. Fishbone was coming to Philly! Well, not Philly, really; but to the Ardmore Music Hall. Out in the suburbs on the main line among the yuppies and investment bankers. My old stomping ground from the woodshed days of being a singer-songwriter guy in DelCo. A return to the old place, what used to be Brownies 23 East, where Splintered Sunlight’s gathering of Deadheads would wobble the nights away. Where a younger, more naive version of myself floated amongst the wobbling hippies trying to score some weed or make out with a pretty girl. Ahh, yes. The good old days. But here we are now, at this moment, needing to be entertained. And why not assign me to cover one of my favorite bands of all time? Yes, please, and thank you, dearest Zoe; I would love to be there.
I recently dug out an old digital camera my dad gave me, so I charged it up, ensured the old card still worked and turned myself into my photographer. I got eyes as well as ears, yes? Here we go; time to put on all the hats and do the thing. I called my friend Bunny (whose name is Rob, but we all call him Bunny) to see if he was free and could get over there in time. So there it was the plan. I go to Ardmore, and Bunny and I go to see Fishbone. Bunny has been around a bit and has many fascinating and elaborate stories. He’s met the guys in the band numerous times, partied with them, and told me all about them. The stories that man can tell, but I digest. I was fighting the impulse to fanboy on these guys, and he helped steel my will with his sarcastic humor and special way of getting me stoned every time we hung out. So we stroll across the street while the opening band is on to smoke a pipe in the parking lot. We discussed our band, PLIB, and the show we had played at The RUBA Club two nights before. We talked about how dispensary weed is ridiculously strong nowadays. And then Bill McThrill popped up seemingly out of nowhere, said hello, and went to eat before Fishbone played.
We went in and caught the end of the opening band’s set. Rk$tdy were tight; tight horn section and sound overall. They had the crowd moving. The sax solos were incredibly funky, considering they were coming from David Fishkin of Johnny Showcase and West Philly Orchestra fame. They were a perfect fit to warm up the crowd for Fishbone. I wandered around getting photos for a few minutes and then returned to the dancefloor to catch their finale. The crowd was starting to simmer, and people were still rolling in through the doors and past the merch tables. The main act was about to begin. I can’t help but enjoy the circus/carnival-sounding environment that Fishbone has cultivated for over 40 years. Their carney-flavored blend of punk, reggae, ska, metal, etc., has been in my ears since at least the early nineties. I played in ska and punk bands while attending Upper Darby High School.
The week before, I had been studying Reggae and Ska and Rastafarianism. I reconnected with something from my past and awakened a new part of my antiracist mission. I was there to get information; I needed some ancient information that is only conveyed in music, in dissonance and harmony, in the way the air moves when you make it really loudly in a crowded room. I was there for religion, for initiation. The band came out swinging with “Sunless Saturday,” “Bonin’ In The Boneyard,” and then played a new song called “I Don’t Care,” which went right into a tune that hits home for many, “Ma & Pa.” They rocked out the classic “A Selection,” the new “All We Have Is Now,” and the very jolly “Cholly” before continuing with “Knock It,'” “Behavior Control Technician,” “Subliminal Fascism” and “Pressure.” Angelo Moore’s voice was as golden as ever, with a vibrato that could woo the gods themselves, and he was jumping from lead singer to saxophone and keyboard. He even had a theremin on stage to rock some cosmic vibrations. Chris Dowd‘s return made the evening more electric. He was on fire the whole time as well.
Norwood Fisher’s bass was knocking the room about as well. If only the clean guitar were loud enough to skank properly, that might have been where we stood in the room. They pumped through “If I were… I’d,” “Lyin Ass Bitch, ‘I Wish I Had A Date,” and “Pray to the Junkiemaker” before the new tune “Estranged Fruit” and classic ska anthem “Alcoholic,” with which the crowd amiably sang along as they wobbled amongst themselves. They put a little button on it with “Skankin’ To The Beat” and the ever-more-true “Party At Ground Zero.” Once they had left the stage, the crowd demanded an encore with chants of “Fishbone is red hot!” and the boys obliged with “Hide Behind My Glasses,” “Everyday Sunshine,” the classic Curtis Mayfield classic from the Superfly film soundtrack “Freddy’s Dead” and then sent us all packing with a rare performance of “Servitude,” after which my initiation was complete. I felt the magic of the moment.
As the lights came up and the crowd poured out onto the sidewalk of Lancaster Avenue, I quickly bought a CD copy of the new album to be kept unopened and a funky but expensive, two-tone Fishbone hat. I had decided not to go backstage to Fanboy after the show for several reasons. One was I was tired, and I needed rest. The others, well, you can do the math. So we drove out to Glenside past the Keswick Theater and stopped there quickly before heading out. ‘Twas a fulfilling evening of music. I see more connections, and I hear more information. Thanks to everyone there and to Rk$dy and Fishbone for making it all perfect. I went home and jammed out the new eponymous album while preparing for bed and reminiscing on my recent studies into Ska and Reggae and Rastafarianism and the sources of antiracism and how all that led to where we are now out here in Babylon. In a time long past, I once knew the ancient songs and danced around the sacred fires.
Rev. TJ McGlinchey