Everyday Sunshine: Film Review

Sharp, insightful look at the ups and downs of one of L.A.’s most influential alternative bands.

Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler's documentary chronicles one of the most influential bands in Los Angeles, Fishbone.

As anyone who saw them live in their ‘80s heyday knows, Fishbone was a band like no other. The kinetic-to-the-max, sprawling ensemble created an unclassifiable mashup of rock, punk, ska and soul, complete with horns. And like many groundbreaking bands, they saw the artists they inspired go on to outshine them in terms of commercial success.

Among those testifying to their influence in the illuminating documentary Everyday Sunshine are Gwen Stefani and Tony Kanal of No Doubt, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction. But this fascinating portrait of the band and its complex alchemy is no mere lovefest. Shining light into previously unexplored corners, the film chronicles the fortunes of a group once poised for superstardom, now whittled down to two of its original members and still making music.

That yin/yang core of Fishbone are founder Norwood Fisher, as root-deep grounded as his bass, and the high-maintenance Angelo Moore, considered by many one of the most charismatic and singular frontmen ever to hit a stage. They met in 1979 as high school students in the San Fernando Valley, where Moore, a smiley geeky kid, asked his way into the band Fisher was forming. Moore was the only one of the group who lived in the Valley and wasn’t being bused there, in the name of integration, from South Central Los Angeles.

Directors Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler (the latter co-directed Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea, an excellent excursion into off-the-grid Americana) use animated sequences and bold stylized graphics to illustrate not just the band’s history but the city’s, from the postwar emigration of Southern blacks, to the LAPD’s notorious treatment of the nonwhite population and the Rodney King verdict and riots. Narration delivered by Laurence Fishburne offers further big-picture insight.

Creating music and an image that didn’t fit into record label categories of “black” or “rock,” Fishbone electrified L.A.’s fertile alternative scene. They played their first professional show at punk hotspot Madame Wong’s, went on to share bills with higher-profile acts like the Dead Kennedys, appeared on SNL in ’91 and put out a video directed by Spike Lee.

But to the surprise of fans and fellow musicians, the group’s ascendancy never reached full bloom. The film vividly illustrates the contrast between then (a sold-out 1992 San Francisco show) and now (a 2007 gig before a handful of indifferent pensioners in an outdoor square in Hungary). The recordings couldn’t capture the ecstatic energy of the concerts. And, as a former manager observes, mainstream success might have eluded Fishbone in part because the band insisted on being a democracy more than a business.

But Norwood and Moore press on, about to release a new album and leading decidedly non-rock-star lives, to which they’ve granted the filmmakers exceptional access. Fishbone has survived many defections, the most notable involving the religious conversion of troubled guitarist Kendall Jones and Norwood’s subsequent trial for kidnapping. Fifteen years later, Everyday Sunshine captures a reunion between them that speaks volumes about the intense connections, complicated and big-hearted, that have fueled an extraordinary musical collaboration.

Opens: Friday, Oct. 7 in New York; Oct. 21 in Los Angeles (Pale Griot)
With: Angelo Moore, Norwood Fisher, Kendall Jones, Chris Dowd, Walter Kibby II, Gwen Stefani, Branford Marsalis, Perry Farrell, Flea, Ice-T, Bob Forrest, George Clinton, Mike Watt, Keith Morris, Tim Robbins, Eugene Hutz, Les Claypool, Vernon Reid, ?uestlove
Narrator: Laurence Fishburne
Directors/producers: Lev Anderson, Chris Metzler
Director of photography/editor: Jeff Springer
No MPAA rating, 107 minutes