indescribable

Fishbone 101 - Nuttasaurusmeg Fossil Fuel'in The Fonkay (Sony/Columbia)
Fishbone

Chim Chim's Badass Revenge (Rowdy/Arista)
Fishbone

By Keith Henry Brown

I'll never forget the day I got introduced to the 'Bone. Back in '87, a musician friend of mine used to rant 'n' rave over these guys, and one day he dragged me to a club in Washington D.C. called the 9:30. We got there a bit late, and people were crowded to the walls in this tight, cavernous space. It was insanely hot, and the stage was so tiny I could hardly imagine it holding one guy playing the maracas, let alone a full band.

Lo and behold, in came seven sweaty black men in torn T-shirts , wearing mohawks, covered in tattoos. They had crazed looks on their faces. With razor blade precision, they launched into an ultra-fast ska tune with all the subtlety of a speeding freight train.

The tune was "Lying Ass Bitch," and from that moment on, Fishbone was my favorite band. They're probably rock n' roll's best kept secret, what with the outstanding playing, terrific songs, and mind blowing shows they keep coming up with year after year, despite the relative lack of attention. They're an original, singular outfit -- complete with their own universe. Sure, they've got their influences -- most obviously Funkadelic/Parliament, James Brown, the Specials, Bob Marley, and various punk bands -- but they're defiantly their own thing.

That's why the new "greatest hits" compilation, Fishbone 101, is a good place to start checking them out. "Lying Ass Bitch" is here, but so is the hilarious "Cholly" (an ode to sexy fat women),"Ma & Pa" (a tuneful examination of the pain of divorce), the funky yet beautiful "Lemon Meringue," and the sublime "Sunless Saturday." To my mind, these songs are already classics. This double album also features rare sides and alternate versions, and they're well worth a listen, even for the uninitiated.

Featured on 101 is "Alcoholic", one of the best cuts from the newest album Chim Chim's Bad Ass Revenge. Chim Chim, as if you didn't know, is that irritating chimp from the "Speed Racer" cartoons, recast here as a pimp in a blacksploitation movie scenario. The album loosely follows the story of his exploits, but mostly what we have is a down and dirty collection of funk, rock, ska, reggae and punk songs that stand well on their own. The trademark horn charts appear on "In The Cube," and lead singer Angelo Moore epitomizes unleashed dementia in his vocals on "Beergut." By the time we get to the out-of-control "Monkey Dick," you're exhausted, and you begin to wonder where all this unbridled energy comes from. And the music, well, the only way to really describe it is "indescribable."