1994 August Hot Press

The Chili Peppers Get Sunstroked




Last year, THE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS were scheduled to top the bill at Sunstroke Mark I. They didn’t make it on that occasion — but this year they will, topping the bill at what promises to be one of the punkiest, funkiest most rockin’ gigs ever held in this country. Presented by HOT PRESS and 2FM, Sunstroke ’94 brings together the hottest sounds in alternative music.

Here we preview the serious, and often seriously risqué, sounds that’ll be on offer in Dalymount Park on August 25th. Oh, and in a pre-festival special Stuart Clark visits Andy Cairns of Therapy? In his specially-constructed torture chamber in County Dublin! Research: Nicholas G. Kelly.

“IT’S BEEN a long time comin”‘ sang Sam Cooke way back in the 1960s, in a line from the classic ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’. It’s a sentiment, however, which could serve as an apt slogan for the Red Hot Chili Peppers gig in Dalymount Park, which sees the LA funk-rock giants keep an outstanding appointment from last summer when they were originally scheduled to top the bill at the same festival. It’s been a long time coming indeed …

That unfinished business notwithstanding, this is a gig which will find the Red Hot Chili Peppers looking resolutely forward. The band have fresh material to showcase, with a new album currently in the pipeline which is scheduled to surface, hopefully, before the end of the year. This will of course be the Poppers’ first release since the staggering success of 1991’s BloodSugarSexMagic – an album which, along with the multi-million selling Mother’s Milk from a few years before, encapsulated the Chili Peppers’ music at its most potent. The challenge now is to effectively re-launch the Red Hot Chili Pepper mothership, so that the ‘Onwards And Up’ signs can be switched on again. Anyone who loves great rock ‘n’ roll will want to see that happen because – whatever problems have bedevilled them along the way – there can be no doubt that the Red Hot Chili Peppers are the real thing.

No two ways.

The story of the Red Hot Chili Peppers is a classic, almost archetypal parable on the tenuous nature of that most elusive and hallucinatory of phenomena: fame. But then, if fame plays hideous tricks with the brain, such a distorted mental state is usually accept-able – indeed it is often necessary – if the band in question are to play beautiful tricks with your sensual world.

This, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have most certainly done – though they hardly started out with the kind of statement of intent which would suggest they’d ultimately become one of the most Important rock acts of the late 80s and early 90s. Their first (and almost inevitably eponymous) album was released as far back as 1983 to no great public acclaim – though the cognoscenti were to be seen nodding their heads approvingly on occasion. The follow-up Freakey Styles [sic] developed the original blueprint somewhat before 1987’s challenging offering, The Uplift Moto Party Plan, established their credentials as contenders as well as genuine originals, spreading the gospel of funk metal via songs which mixed scatology with the Chili’s own patois in equal measures and in the resulting melee came up with a crazed but potent take on the workings of the world (and of the human body) as we know it.

Mother’s Milk which followed established them, and set a whole host of imitators in motion (some of whom are still around). But with the release in 1991 of the intriguingly titled BloodSugarSexMagic,[sic] they really exploded into the front rank of rock roll shaman – a band with attitude to burn and the songs, and the playing, to match. It was no surprise when this great, loud, stomping, funky, slice of danceable rock magic sold by the market-load – the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ own piquant brand of musical spice was most certainly in the menu.

For the band themselves, however, one thing did not enter the equation: commercial success for them could never mean stability. On the contrary, the freedom of spirit which is at the core of their music has deeply affected their evolution, creating a script that’s as immersed in tragedy as in celebration. Lead singer and founder-member Anthony Keidis’ [sic] father was an actor named Blackie Dammett. As if taking his own name as a cue, Dammett’s prototypical free-spirited leanings encouraged his son to embrace life with all the intensity of a bone-crunching bear-hug.

Keidis [sic] dutifully obliged and he rode his wild horses for a while (as well as growing a long enough mane himself) in LA street gangs. That salutary experience wasn’t wasted, providing the inspiration for what has been described as the ‘Stairway To Heaven’ of the ’90s grunge generation, ‘Under The Bridge’.

You can take the Chili Peppers to task about their early records all you like, but when it comes to that song you’ve just got to shut up. Even if they never wrote another note, their existence, on the basis of that particular single alone, would still have been justified: the whole of life and a bit more is in that song, with the sound of Keidis reeling in his years releasing hitherto untapped emotions in the listener, to rise up and demand their right of expression. In a sense, as long as songs like this are still being written – and allowed to breathe – all the other murky and problematic dealings of the suffocating side of the music business seem vindicated. Nearly …

But to understand the sheer power of the track, we have to under-stand the history that underlies it. Would that song have been so perfect if it hadn’t been for the influence exerted on bass player Flea’s musical sensibility by his jazz trumpeter father Walter Urban Junior? If the stories surrounding the excesses of the now ex-guitarist John Frusciante are true, what difference did drugs make to the overall vibe of the band at that time? And remember, he was only there because of the death of one of the Peppers’ previous axe-slingers, whose heroin overdose was just another indication that the rock ‘n’ roll Crazy Gang cliché is destined to live out the myth of eternal return, whether we like it or not.

If the ghosts of their troubled past still haunt the band, they have managed to channel these most effectively into the positive energy of creativity. Never doing anything hall-heartedly, the band moved into an actual ‘haunted house’ for the making of BloodSugarSexMagic: ‘There, were ghosts everywhere”, explained Anthony Keidis [sic] in a recent interview, “they came out on about four of the photos we took for an album cover session – these floating nebulous shapes.”

It’s no wonder the album is such a masterpiece, given the company the band kept while they were there: “It had been owned by gangsters; the Beatles had taken LSD there as a foursome; Jimi Hendrix stayed there…it’s deeply saturated with history.”

Despite the supernatural intrusions, the Chili Peppers felt more at home there than at any other previous location. This, Keidis [sic] argues, is the crucial factor in the creative process: “The more relaxed you are, the more freely your beautiful spirit can come into the music … The whole point of being a band is to constantly grow and change so that your feeling comes out in music.”

These are the words of a man who has retained his Sufiesque philosophy of life, ingrained in him as it was all those years ago by his father. This openness to life is inherent in the music which, Anthony intonates, is “driven by the power of funk … Funk can be as simple as one note or it can be as complicated as a barrage of fifty notes in three seconds.”

Make no mistake: the sound that the Red Hot Chili Peppers have patented on their more recent releases is an achievement of the highest order in that it somehow manages to gel the seemingly incompatible musical styles of hardcore funk and orthodox metal -and it does so with great power, and occasionally beauty. In other words, what makes this Californian four-piece a cut or three above the rest is not merely their experimentation per se, but the music to which the project gives birth, which is in itself so damn good.

The true test of Great Rock Music is the extent to which it manages to evade all comfortable categorisations and petty pigeon-holing -and the Chili Peppers at their best (e.g. their version of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’) do exactly that: erasing all boundaries which threaten to stifle musical progress and risk-taking. The music industry these days is managed by the very people who shouldn’t be let within filofaxing distance of creative artists. As a result, the vast bulk of corporate product deserves to be put on a long conveyor belt leading to the nearest dump. As Flea says: “On the majority of rock records, you don’t hear a guitar or drums or bass. You hear a bunch of processed, synthesised shit.”

Now it’d be wrong to simplify things but this kind of Industry bullshit may go some way towards explaining the torrid experiences of the Red Hot Chili Peppers over recent years – from the death of their guitar player to the series of line-up changes which have dogged them since BloodSugarSexMagic. Keidis[sic] himself intimates as much, describing his loathing of “extraneous, undesirable individuals strolling about the premises.”

Not for nothing did they walk naked across that famous Pelican crossing near the Abbey Road recording studios with only a disgruntled-looking sock for company; they were trying to make a point with that stunt, but, of course, it was manipulated and used as just another publicity coup with even Rolling Stone using the picture of Keidis [sic] and co.’s “front covers” on its own front cover.

But it’s a funny of rock ‘n’ roll world and, despite all the odds, the Chili Peppers have resolutely lasted the pace. The important thing now is that they’re back and ready to take on a busy tour of festivals, including headlining at Reading, and doing the 25th anniversary gig at Woodstock. And Dublin too. Prepare to Chili out at Sunstroke! Things to look out for: Seeing just how far the band pull up their socks.

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