It's taken 31 years, but Fishbone is finally making an appearance in Wichita. Two, actually. Tonight, the ska-punk-funk-metal band with a big cult following plays Frida's on West 21st. And this fall, a documentary about the band will have one of its first showings at the Tallgrass Film Festival.
Fishbone leader John Norwood Fisher said he's not sure why his band hasn't visited Wichita before, especially since he has a couple of relatives who live here. For those who've only heard the band's music or seen it on TV, the infectious Fisher promises an experience.
"Enter at your own risk," he said over the telephone from his home in Southern California. "It's a wild show. We were born out of the spirit of punk rock. Bring your crash helmet."
Fisher started Fishbone as a junior high student in South Central Los Angeles in 1979, influenced by other all-black rock bands like the Bus Boys and Bad Brain. Although the outfit never achieved the record sales of some fellow members of that music scene, such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane's Addiction, it became a critical favorite with its catchy mix of horns and guitars.
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After the single "Party at Ground Zero" put it on the map, Fishbone had videos on MTV, songs on movie soundtracks, and a frenetic appearance on "Saturday Night Live." Like tokens of coolness, the band's T-shirts had a habit of showing up in TV shows and movies on actors who were fans.
Fishbone also went through numerous personal and record label changes, with Fisher as the only constant. Not surprisingly, the documentary focuses on the original members of the band. It's called "Everyday Sunshine," the title of a 1991 Fishbone song.
"The amount of people that the original lineup of Fishbone touched was incredible," Fisher said. "We didn't know it at the time."
What Fisher did know, he says, is that Fishbone was built to last in one form or another. He said he was inspired by performers who were already veterans when he started, from the Rolling Stones to George Clinton.
"The fact is, it's not easy," he said. "We've gotten great opportunities that millions and millions of musicians don't. But we still had to work hard — maybe three times as hard as some other bands to get what we had."
The documentary will make its debut in Los Angeles because "that's where we're from," Fisher said. He said he's planning to return to Wichita for the Tallgrass Festival showing next fall.
"I've got a couple of uncles there," he said. "My aunt moved there from Sacramento."
As for tonight's show at Frida's, Norwood said the band's current lineup is the longest-running since the original group, and the one that stands up best to that group.
"Hell, yeah," Fisher said. "Otherwise we would have packed our bags and said this isn't worth it."
If you go
What: Alternative rock band from California, with opening acts The Key Elements, Rudy Love Jr. and The Get Down
Where: Frida's, 1580 W. 21st St.
When: 8 p.m. today
How much: $15 in advance, $20 at the door