Story Time With Bomb Volume 10...A Fish(boned) Tale Of Two Cities, Part 1: Red, Hot & Silly in Philly
It’s always something with Fishbone. For a myriad of reasons both internal and external, something always seems to happen with this band. Look no further than the documentary ‘Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone” for evidence. Then immediately afterwards, try watching Wilco’s dour record-industry docudrama ‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’ without scoffing at how trivial their issues seem by comparison.
But that’s the Fishbone story. Some of you may have heard it, most of you probably haven’t. Which is a shame but not what this story is actually about. This is not a concert review, nor a biography, it's Story Time With Bomb.
Fishbone just happens to be the brilliant and criminally underrated band whose two shows, 21 years apart, provide the canvas these two tales were set upon.
Fish(-boned) Tale #1:
Red Hot Tempers & Temperatures on an East Coast Tour Date
Date: August 12th, 2016
City: Philadelphia, PA
Venue/Location: MilkBoy Philly, 11th & Chestnut Street(s)
It Sticks To You…
At 10:37 we (aka Big Al & Bomb) had just walked thru the unmarked gray door leading up the stairs to the second floor of MilkBoy Philly, where Fishbone were scheduled to hit the stage at 11, yet the night looked like it might be already over.
“IF YOU DON’T KEEP THE RIGHT SIDE CLEAR, YOU’RE NOT GETTING IN HERE!” was the shouted command from the muscle-bound bouncer at the top of the stairs.
He was difficult to see but perched above on a chair on the other side of the one-turn stairwell, with a platform in the middle, by the door of the 2nd-floor entrance to the club.
Alan and I were in the midst of shooting each other confused is he shouting at us? faces, when the guy at the midpoint of the stairs opted to voluntarily fill us in:
“Yo, this guy is CRAZY…a real asshole”.
We'd been out of the air-conditioned car we’d just parked in the Thomas Jefferson Hospital lot around the corner for less than five minutes, yet sweat was already stinging my eyes.
Meanwhile the barking of this bouncer I couldn’t even see clearly from the mid-tier platform, was instantly stinging my ears.
The air swirling around this sweltering staircase amidst the humidity and bad feelings was the kind that sticks to you…like Crazy Glue.
“What am I doing here?” was the thought already running thru my 40-year-old mind, while futilely wiping at my brow with my already-damp forearm.
Alan, to his credit and my detriment, had already started sensing my fear and trepidation.
“Dude, are you OK?”, he asked as I stood on the stairs holding myself up by the fence above the railing, saying nothing but with a face that seemed to be telling him everything.
I mustered a halfhearted nod indicating yes, then muttered something indecipherable.
“What?", Alan further inquired.
I then flashed him the universal “never mind”/“cut it out” sign.
It was too hot for me to try to forming a complete sentence, let alone risk speaking it loud enough for the beast at the top of the stairs shouting from his stool to hear.
Somewhat satisfied, Big Al turned from me and again attempted to peer around the final upturn of the steamy staircase.
It was a few beats later, as the opening act began the opening chords to a fully audible cover of “Whole Lotta Love”, when the blind man began ascending the staircase from the empty left side.
This was a man whose appearance made it so obvious he was blind that if he wasn’t, it was the most elaborate hustle since the faux-blind-guy in “Top Secret”.
He was even wearing a similar eye-shielding, glasses-and-hat combo.
He examined the few immediate feet in front of him with a four-pronged cane, which was used to guide him each step of the way up the back side, then up the front-side of the wrap-around stair case, all while holding the left-side railing carefully for balance and probing with the cane in his right hand.
At first we hadn’t been paying much attention, too preoccupied with our own discomfort in the heat and the din of discouraging orders coming from the top.
Yet when the blind man reached the summit, the sheer lunacy of the scene was soon crystallized.
“SIR, I’D LIKE TO LET YOU IN BUT I SAID WE NEED TO KEEP THIS LEFT SIDE CLEAR!
YOU JUST CUT IN FRONT OF FIVE OTHER PEOPLE IN THIS LINE, I’M GONNA NEED YOU TO GO BACK DOWN TO THE BOTTOM OF THE STAIRS AND WAIT!”
I couldn’t actually hear what the blind man with the cane was mustering in response.
You couldn’t hear anyone besides the bouncer and the band playing “Whole Lotta Love” on the other side of the magical door we may never get to enter thru.
I could, however, hear the dude who gave us the first bit of information when we arrived, who seemed to already be battle-scarred by the time we arrived.
“What the fuck, he’s yelling at the blind guy?!?” he said to the girls directly above him on the stairs.
Looking back at us, allies now in this absurdity, with a bemused grin on his face, exclaiming:
“Yo, now this asshole’s yelling at a blind man”, in between exasperated laughs, “yo, what the FUCK is going on?!?”.
Now the women began voicing their opinions but they were difficult to decipher what they were saying in the cacophony, meanwhile the bouncer soldiered right thru any screeching objection with power-drunk posturing.
He wasn't yet done scolding the blind man, ordering him to walk back down the stairwell.
“Dude, he’s fucking blind, he can go in before us, are you serious?!?” protested our new ally.
But nobody who could do anything was listening.
It was at that moment that Fishbone drummer John Steward, aka Wet Daddy, entered thru the gray door at the bottom of the stairs but stopped at the sight of us before ascending.
It was almost as if he could read our faces the way Alan had read mine.
“What’s going on in here?”
Big Al, a drummer in his own right with two local Philly area bands, tells Wet Daddy, “This bouncer’s yelling at everybody, including a blind guy”.
“I’m going around the other side, I’m not dealing with that shit”, is Wet Daddy’s reply before thanking Al and bowing right back out the door.
Not dealing with it, going to the front stairs, these were options for the talent, not for the patrons who had yet to get their wrists stamped with the club’s stamp of approval.
There was only one man at the moment controlling those decisions.
He knew it.
So did we.
As did the blind man, who’d tapped his way up the non-preferred section of the stairwell, which the bouncer was busy barking about being a fire-code violation.
Thankfully, John “Wet Daddy” Steward making a speedy exit from our stairwell perhaps had alerted the MilkBoy manager as to what was going on.
We were almost ready to fold up the tent to go home but the manager, after a brief inquiry, informed us both to stay put.
He promised to make sure the whole line was thru in no time.
Within thirty seconds, the blind man was inside the door.
Then each woman ahead of us began filtering inside in rapid succession.
By the time he was letting our new friend in the bouncer was engaging in sunny doorman banter, saying things like “happy belated birthday” and "have a great time" while checking the dates on our ID’s.
Suppose that’s how it goes when a praetorian gets told his paychecks may soon become belated.
Feel The Full Effect…And Centuries of Heat
We're now inside, with one foot halfway out the door, because the battle’s still on.
Fishbone may have never become the platinum-plaque posting band that many thought they would back in the days when bands sold records…but they’re still too big an act for a place this small.
Especially when it’s this damn hot…as it’s been for virtually this entire 2016 summer in Philadelphia.
The only relief seemed to come in the form of the occasional thunderstorm.
This particular weekend it was consistently close to 100 degrees in Philly, but with the heat index it felt far hotter, closer to 115-120.
Even at nearly 11 PM on Friday night, there still felt like no relief in sight.
It also didn’t help that nearly twenty minutes after the opening act had gotten done their terminally long Led Zep encore, we were no closer to getting the headliner’s set started.
It certainly wasn’t Wet Daddy’s fault, waiting patiently behind his drum kit.
We couldn’t even blame the blind-man-rebuffing bouncer.
The spot would have been oversold even in normal weather, now we were in a narrow corridor-like room, packed to the gills in the middle of a heat wave, shoulder-to-shoulder anywhere near the bar or merch tables, let alone near the stage.
Plus the air-conditioning had gone out.
I’m not sure how things like humidity, body heat, HVAC issues and small spaces affect things like tuning a Theremin, miking a trombone or picking up a pocket trumpet but they can’t help.
After 15 minutes with several band members onstage attempting to tune up and tap on mics, we heard “put some music on” and it was back to a DJ interlude.
Their leading warrior, lead singer/songwriter/saxophonist/theremin maestro Angelo Moore aka Dr. Madd Vibe was pacing thru the crowd back to where we presumed the soundboard was.
It would be over an hour after we’d crossed the threshold into MilkBoy’s upstairs doors before the headliner would actually begin their set.
They did so by their visibly ready-to-rock trombonist/singer “Flying Jay” Armant announced just before the show got under way that “it’s about to be red-hot”.
Those words would soon prove to be eerily prophetic 45 minutes later when pocket-trumpet-player/singer Walter “Dirty Walt” Kibby III passed out onstage from the heat.
It wasn’t until set break when the ambulance rolled up outside the front door that anybody besides the band and staff seemed to know anything was wrong.
They promptly ushered Dirty Walt into the ambulance’s back doors.
Presumably after being given an IV for dehydration, Walter Kibby felt recovered enough to opt against adding “ambulance ride” to the tour expenses of the band that he, Angelo and bassist/vocalist/co-captain John Norwood Fisher had founded all the way back in 1979.
Walt was seated at one of MilkBoy’s café tables outside when we walked outside during the prolonged set break.
Once it became clear what happened, it was a relief to see Walter sitting outside smiling and shaking his head, jumpsuit unzipped and open down to nearly his waist, drenched in sweat seeping out of his pores, transforming into steam clouds emanating from there and floating into the muggy August evening air.
The specter of the scare was still visible, but the imminent health danger seemed to be abated, meanwhile a concerned roadie was making sure he drank more water, while also putting in a rush food order into the MilkBoy kitchen.
Feeling strange ogling the whole scene without being of any real assistance, nor knowing anyone involved enough to justify it being my business, I asked Walter:
“You feeling a little better?”
“Yeah man, I’m gonna be alright” was Walt’s woozily amused reply.
“It is ungodly hot out here, I feel your pain. I was born in this city but been in LA the last 13 years, got back just in time for the hottest summer ever, forgot what this heat and humidity really felt until July…but it is no joke”.
Walt looked up with a nod of concurrence and the best smile he could muster under the circumstances, then said “No doubt……took me right out”.
Now back onstage, Angelo Moore soldiered on in the face of all this sweltering madness, because Angelo treats shows the way Allen Iverson did games, playing each like it’s his last.
I hadn't actually seen Walt's fall.
I also didn’t see the dude whyling out in the Phillies cap be identified, then ejected but did witness his exit.
As I heard "Everyday Sunshine" being played inside the building, I began walking back inside, just as the hammered kid in the Phils' cap was being shown outside, then left to stumble down 11th Street on his own to chase any further nonsense he might find his way into before the night ended.
He looked familiar from inside but his inebriation seemed a bit familiar as well, harkening back to a time when an 18-year-old Young Bomb had once found himself in a similar, solitary, soused space.
Luckily back in those days the only way young, dumb, alcohol-fueled behavior could resurface the next day was by a police citation, an answering machine message or Star 69.
Every dumb thing that you do is out there on digital display.
And it can stick to you.
Like Crazy Glue.
Yet some of us "grown" folk are awfully quick to wag a finger without stopping to consider, that we were once crazy too.
**Stay Tuned for ‘Story Time With Bomb Volume 10...A Fish(-bone) Tale Of Two Cities, Part 2: Sauced, Tossed & Getting Lost In Boston’ coming Tuesday 8/16/16 on Something in The Wudder**
For some evidence of what Fishbone can do on a stage with their wholly unique horn-driven blend of ska, hard-rock, funk, metal soul you can take a peek below.
Things get cooking about midway thru song two, "Crazy Glue", despite still battling sound issues particularly on Flying Jay's mic which at times seemed to either be on or at least not turned up loud enough.
Front to back the second set after the heat forced Walter to tap out might be the jewel here as the rest of the band like true pros stepped their game up to account for his absence.