The Chili Peppers Last Stand?
SOMETHING’S AFOOT in the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ camp. They’ve reached the end of their UK tour with two television appearances and a live show blown to hell, bassist Flea has a face as long as ‘War And Peace’ and with just a couple of hours to go before showtime tonight, guitarist John Frusciante is nowhere in sight. Backstage at London’s draughty Brixton Academy, things do not bode well for LA’s SexFunkMagicians. Oh, and it’s also Friday the 13th… LIZ EVANS (words) and TONY WOOLLISCROFT (pix) soak up the vibes and stumble across latter ay Samurai HENRY ROLLINS and his band the wonderfully funky FAMILY STAND.
It’s been nine years since the Chili Peppers began battering down the divide between Rock and Funk, and blending the two into heady, but effervescent mixtures of alternative jock humour and pelvic-lugging beats. During that time they’ve weathered line up changes, the tragic and unnecessary death of guitarist Hillel Slovak from a heroin overdose, and the move from one major label to another. Not only have they continued to release magnificent slabs of vinyl, they’ve also played extraordinarily energetic and entertaining shows, overcoming all potential setbacks on a riotous wave of peculiarly original and fiercely active achievements. Tonight though, the atmosphere is decidedly tense. During soundcheck, Frusciante’s technician takes the missing guitarist’s place, vocalist Anthony Kiedis looks overly serious as he marches between the stage and the sound desk and Flea wraps himself manically into the task at hand, surfacing to jam a little with drummer Chad Smith, the only Chili who’s regularly smiling just now. The most cheerful moment arrives with Sam Salinger, tour manager Tony’s son. Aged around three, he dashes onto the stage clutching a toy guitar, and proceeds to mumble into the mike, as the band dance alongside him. Sometimes only kids and animals can save the day.
So just what the hell is going on? Haven’t we always expected male bonding frivolities and seriously jovial lads-on-the-road togetherness from this band? Well, yes, we have actually. So has touring stopped being fun? Is John heading for the exit? Will Flea take the domestic option and stay at home with his daughter? Sitting in the dressing room after dinner, Anthony begins to explain how he personally feels right now, about being on the road.
“I feel very, very lucky to be able to tour, and at this point in my life I’m taking care of myself so that I can handle it spiritually, mentally and physically, so I can deal with it. But the hardest thing about touring for me, is the guys in the band that aren’t into it, because it saddens me to see them in a state of unhappiness. Flea doesn’t like touring period. He’d like to do what Pink Floyd did, that is touring for a maximum of two weeks at a time, because he has a kid and it pains him to leave her, to the point where you can read it on his face at any minute of the day. He thinks he’s being a terrible father by being away. So that’s tough. And John and I don’t really communicate with each other anymore, because we’ve kind of grown distant. He brings his girlfriend on tour and they just hang out together. The last time we were in Europe, John and I were the best of friends, and this time I don’t even see him except when we’re on stage. So it’s unpleasant for me. Chad and I sort of stick together and make the best of it at all times. Because really you know, touring is an opportunity to have a lot of fun. So is the glass half empty, or is the glass half full? Who knows?”
In addition to their personal problems, the Chili Peppers seem to have been experiencing publicity tangles. Flea recently declared to London’s local newspaper, The Standard, that he never intended to play England again. That, together with a cancelled show in Manchester, and cancelled appearances on Top of The Pops and The Word, may well suggest that the Peppers are less than happy about their relationship with this country.
“We have the secret plan never to play England again,” admits Anthony. “I guess it’s fucked for the fans we do have, but we’ve just been grovelling for too long in this forsaken land, and not really getting anywhere. It’s kind of like walking up the down escalator. Well, that’s an exaggeration, but we like to pretend it’s like that.”
And as for the television shows…..
“First Warner Brothers wanted us to do The Word, but it would have meant cancelling a gig, so we said no. they got really upset, because they see television as this really powerful way of selling records, so we thought it we said no to Top Of the pops, it would destroy our relationship with the label in this country. Initially we wanted to hire a helicopter and fly back to Manchester after doing the TV, but it wasn’t going to finish until nine o’clock, so there was no way we’d have made it. We said we’d do it, only under the condition that we make it a sort of Theatre of the Absurd. We were going to dress up in Victorian dresses and switch instruments and dance about, so it wouldn’t look like we were actually pretending at all. They refused to let us, so we said no to them. Everything we’ve stood for, in the last nine years, has been about integrity and doing what we believe in, and we weren’t going to do something we didn’t believe in just to appease some television program, regardless of how powerful they find themselves to be. We don’t give a fuck about that.”
They may not give a fuck about Top Of The Pops, but with a punishing touring schedule ahead of them, the Peppers will have to sort out their differences, or they find themselves with very little to give a fuck about at all.
“We have tours lined up in Japan, New Zealand and Australia, and then an enormous Lollapalooza tour in the summer. That’ll be nice because there’s such a huge crossover of bands on the bill, and we’ll be able to make some friends. Just being on the road with your own band means you hang out together too much.
“As far as John goes, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I can only hope for the best. Flea has stated what he’s prepared to do, and that includes all the tours we have ahead of us. It’s a shame that the circle is tainted at the moment. I can only hope that it’ll pass.”
WATCHING THE Peppers perform later on, it’s fairly evident that the energy’s faded, albeit temporarily. John’s girlfriend, Toni, perches elfin-like, on the edge of a fight case next to his amplifier. He kisses her and ruffles her hair in between songs. He plays almost within invisible boundaries, never straying far from Toni, keeping himself apart from the wild to-ings and fro-ings of Flea and Anthony. When it’s time to break for the encore, he doesn’t even leave the stage, preferring to stay with his girlfriend until he’s back under the lights.
Earlier in the day, whilst writing out the setlist, Anthony remarked that since the band broke ritual halfway through the last US tour, and stopped coming onstage to ‘Out In LA’, things had been going downhill. Tonight they come on stage with the ritual back in place. While question marks hang over their future, the Chilis will certainly need luck on their side.
AS FAR as Henry Rollins is concerned… [Have omitted part of the transcript as it’s not about RHCP].
RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS
THE ROLLINS BAND
Brixton Academy, London
VERDICT: Rollins by a mile!
CHILIS SET LIST: ‘Out In LA’/’Organic’/’Bulletproof’/’Suck My Kiss’/’Funky Crime’/’Give It Away’/’Nobody weird’/’Stone Cold Bush’/’Mummy’/’Higher Ground’/’I Could’ve lied’/’Lovely Man’/’Me And My Friends
ENCORES: ‘party On your Pussy’/’Crosstown Traffic’
… The Chili Peppers, on the other hand, are rapidly losing themselves in their own strange world. They’ve already cancelled a gig in Manchester to appear on Top Of The Pops, only to be forcibly ejected from the programme, and this will apparently be their last UK visit, so tired are they of this country. For a band built on solid foundation of fun the smiles seem to be fading. It makes for a strange show; one where bassist Flea can sneer at the audience without them understanding the insult. One where the Chili Peppers can be so lame and untogether yet still be idolised. One where the performers quite obviously couldn’t care less.
Frontman Anthony Kiedis can command an ovation merely by removing his sunglasses and shirt, but it doesn’t hide the fact that his band have lost the plot that characterised the ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’ album. ‘Give It Away’ should be the most economic, powerful groove possible, not a sprawling wreck that almost expires on its feet. Flea wants to mess around, guitarist John Frusciante wants to play something else entirely, Kiedis knows that he doesn’t have to try. Nobody in this band looks like they want to be here or on the same stage as each other.
‘Suck My Kiss’ clicks into gear momentarily and the colour, humour and energy become one big Funky beat that moves a whole dance floor. ‘Higher Ground’, though, is tossed away like a cheap gift.
Only Chad Smith- watch carefully and the guy’s drumming mercurial- rises above the arrogance and going-through-the-motions antics. His is the only real musical contribution to a showbiz parade that has no substance or apparent intent. Contrast that with the stripped bones pummelling by The Rollins band and the headliner’s looked insignificant and pointless, a worn-out shell.
Quite how a band can be this good and then be this bad is quite a mystery, and the answer probably goes a lot deeper than recent run-ins suggest. Tonight something was seriously wrong, who knows how terminal it’s going to be?