Fishbone / Spookey Ruben Lee's Palace, Toronto ON June 30

Fishbone / Spookey Ruben Lee's Palace, Toronto ON June 30
Opener Spookey Ruben has been a mainstay in the Canadian entertainment scene for almost two decades as a musician and a filmmaker, and the singer/guitarist and his accompanying band were incredibly polished. However, his setlist was meandering, as the lyricism and stage props (including someone in a dirty, matted mouse costume from his short horror film Puzzleface) fell a bit flat. And while the crowd was very "Canadian" in their attentiveness (i.e., polite), the biggest reaction came when Spookey performed "Born on Labour Day" and his 1995 hit single "These Days Are Over."

Despite cancelling a European tour earlier this year due to some reported illness, Fishbone saxophonist/vocalist Angelo Moore was in fine form, resplendent in a women's wig, plaid pants, a Theremin and a youthful swagger that belied his age. Introducing their set with some pointed social commentary, the multifaceted seven-piece band proceeded to tear the roof off Lee's Palace and get folks sweaty with favourites like "Everyday Sunshine," "Ma and Pa" and the Sublime cover "Date Rape." However, some cringed during the introduction of "Cholly" when Moore proclaimed the band's love for "fat girls," and then went on to point out some unsuspecting female audience members.

As Fishbone's 2011 documentary Everyday Sunshine attested, Moore and bassist/vocalist Norwood Fisher have had some serious challenges, including limited genre classifications and record industry woes. But their band, especially "Dirty Walt" Kibby (Year of the Dragon), Rocky George (ex-Suicidal Tendencies) and keyboardist /MC/vocalist Dre Gipson (who took impromptu breaks to throw himself into the audience) were phenomenal, and their improvisational musical stylings were most definitely unique.

While many of their colleagues in both the SoCal punk scene and the grunge era went on to make millions, the audience that night were left scratching their heads: Fishbone can clearly kick ass, so what gives? But it is the live performance, not record sales, that distinguish style from substance.