Thank you to Kathie Davis for the transcript
GET YER SOCKS OFF: MICHAEL DWYER (WORDS) & Tony Mott (PICS)
COCK ROCKIN’ HEAT!
HAVE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS GONE ALL NEW-AGE HIPPY ON US? WELL, SORT OF. AT AUSTRALIA’S SUN-TASTIC BIG DAY OUT, THE BOYS SET ABOUT EXORCISING THEIR DEMONS – AND GETTING THEIR KIT OFF, AS USUAL…
IT’S mid-afternoon under a white-hot Australian sun and partial nudity is an all-but-legislated rule, from the long queue filing into the Gold Coast Parklands to the shaded swelter of the backstage compound. Everywhere you look, pecs and six packs jostle with enough breasts to make even the most die-hard nudist blush, while up onstage it’s like Tattoo Expo 2000, a gallery of organic ink masterpieces glistening on slippery, white, naked flesh.
“Show us your boobies!” demands one of the human artworks on stage. A roar of appreciation goes up as a barrage of obliging teens titties bounce and sway out of string bikinis and sweat-soaked tank tops. “Cool”, as those cultured fans of the female form, Bevis And Butt-head might once have observed. The band thrash into another hardcore punk rant and all is right with the world.
Welcome to a new, enlightened era of outdoor rock, the first summer roadshow of the brave new millennium. The Australian Big Day Out festival, basically Reading but with guaranteed sunshine and slightly better-looking punters, is in its seventh year, and the Woodstock-patented free love ethos (well, free perve at least) seems to have come full circle.
The band in the 3pm main stage slot are not this year’s superstar rock headliners, Red Hot Chili Peppers, but a younger generation of tattooed love boys. It’s Blink 182, making their own misogynistic errors of judgment to be rued, no doubt, in wiser years to come.
Indeed, if Flea, the Chili Peppers’ sensitive new age bass man, had made it out front to check the opposition, far from applauding the booby exposure scam he might have experienced a few nasty flashbacks to Woodstock ’99.
“What bothered me from the stage,” says Flea, reminiscing about last July’s all-American celebration of arson and rape, ‘was that there were girls with their tops off on the shoulders of guys in the crowd, and all these men were reaching up and grabbing their breasts. I found that to be really disgusting and wrong.
“I stopped the show at one stage and said “Hey, you guys have to stop doing that. You dream about breasts all day long and here these girls have the goodwill to let you have a gander at ‘em and then you’re gonna ruin the whole thing by being a pig and totally violating someone’s boundaries.’ They stopped after that, so that was cool.”
IT’s fair to say that the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ boundaries have shifted a few times over their off-told history of love and death and funk and fear. The tacky testosterone days of “Party On your Pussy” and infamous cocks-in-socks stunt (for their Abbey Road EP in 1988) defined an era which – like the Beastie Boys’ caged go-go chicks phase – is past tense.
The now reconstructed foursome, responsible for last year’s smash hit comeback album “Californication”, say their union is now based on the purest love four men can freely express in public. Flea, singer Anthony Kiedis, drummer Chad Smith and prodigal guitarist John Frusciante have weathered so many motorcycle accidents, heroin-induced nightmares and inter-personal crises that it has sent them hurtling from the laddish antics of yesteryear to rather more spiritual territory. Hmm: out of the frying pan and into…
“The universe has conspired to put us in this position for a reason and I definitely feel like it’s a higher calling,” says the softly spoken bass player, while everyone within earshot looks around for somewhere to hide. “I feel like what we’re doing is very meaningful and we’re very fortunate to be able to spread good feelings wherever we go and to make people happy. That’s what it’s about. And at the same time we get to exorcise our demons and to work our best at being good artists and creating good art. To be able do that is the greatest gift I could ever imagine.
Much has been made of the demons to which the newly crimson-haired Chili Pepper refers. Flea and Kiedis first watched their old school friend and original guitarist Hillel Slovak die of heroin abuse, and then his successor, Frusciante, took to the same path in the early Nineties. Happily, “Californication” marked not only Frusciante’s recovery but the band’s miraculous return from the brink. In ’98, following the departure of umpteenth guitarist Dave Navarro, a new record from the Red Hot Chili Peppers appeared about as likely as another Elvis comeback special.
“There was point where I wasn’t sure about the band’s future and wasn’t really interested,” Flea says. “There was a point where it was feeling like a job and like no fun. I was getting ready to make a solo record, and that was much more interesting to me.”
In fact, Flea and Navarro went on tour with Perry Farrell and a reformed Jane’s Addiction. But just as Kiedis looked like the odd Pepper out, it was Navarro who jumped ship.
“We couldn’t go on with Dave anymore because we just didn’t have it going,” Flea says. “We couldn’t ever maintain a level of camaraderie long enough to have a natural love thing going between us.”
Hmm: there’s that love business again.
“And then when Jon came back it became completely beautiful again. We’ve got a thing now which is like complete inspiration and I treasure every moment that we play together. It just feels great.”
THIS is all a far cry from the last time The Maker ran into the Chili Peppers, when they made anyone with any taste or, erm, decency lose their lunch with tales of bestial porn and prostitutes. The Chili Peppers – all present bar Frusciante, which is a relief, frankly, as his appearance would probably prompt an outbreak of hugging and girly sobbing from the all-new loved-up Chili Peppers – are feeling chilled and cheerful, happy to take in the sunny backstage vibes.
As the afternoon wanes into a gorgeous, balmy Queensland evening, Joe Strummer’s distant bark blows into the artists’ sanctum, where Primal Scream are enjoying a self-congratulatory lager after damn near tearing the dance tent off its poles. Nearby, Dave Grohl is being charming but businesslike with an excited young lady who has somehow managed to elude security as far as this grassy enclave, where mobile phones and shiny laminates are the only generally accepted currency. Anthony Kiedis, meanwhile, has his eye on another intruder.
“I’m just being distracted by something for a moment,” he says, staring intently over my head as I extend my hand. Seems some well-wishing fan has just followed Kiedis’ girlfriend in the direction of the main stage. Only after Kiedis has seen them fork off in different directions does he relax and invite us into the Chili Peppers’ trailer, which is decorated in a jungle style, Wicked.
“We do love nature,” Anthony confesses, as Chad Smith bums a cigarette and joins him for the pre-gig interrogation. “I just came from Bali, which was amazing. I’m a terrible surfer but I get to tell my friends who are good at surfing that I actually surfed in Bali. Alone? No, I was with my girlfriend – which is a blessing and a curse.”
Yeah, wimmin, eh? Can’t live with `em, can’t talk `em into starring in a video with a… hang on, sorry, I forgot, that was the old Chili Peppers. This is the new male-bonding renaissance luwie version.
“We also went white-water rafting though the interior of Bali, which was sensational,” grins Anthony, happy to be living it up in a hot country. “Not dangerous. The most dangerous thing I saw the whole time I was there was a couple of tourists from Germany.”
“Or possibly the other cars on the road,” Chad laughs.
“No, they were in danger of me on that one,” Anthony smiles, as Chad dissolves into laughter. “They thought they had the edge on me when they did the chicken thing. My girlfriend was so angry at me. At one point, I had a little clipping. I said, “Fine, you can clip if you want to clip…”
All the traffic talk has Chad suddenly excited: “Did you book a motorcycle for tomorrow?”
“Louis [Mathieu, the Chilis’ tour manager] was talking about a bike, but I didn’t know if it was for you or for me. You should get one too.”
“I would love to have a bike tomorrow. That would be amazing. I wouldn’t mind riding up to Brisbane,” Anthony tells his bandmate.
“These are our bikes now.” Chad explains, pointing at a couple of girly 100cc field scooters parked just outside the tent. “We’ve downgraded a little bit.”
He’s referring to the Chili Peppers’ double-smash hiccup of 1997. Apart from all the business with Navarro, Kiedis’ self-confessed heroin relapse, an almost comical string of gig cancellations and a hurricane blowing them offstage in Tokyo, the year was marred by Chad and Anthony smashing their motorbikes in separate incidents in Los Angeles. Chad scraped by with a dislocated shoulder. Anthony’s injuries were… “bountiful and painful,” he grimaces.
“My hand got swallowed by my arm. I had a double-decker forearm for a while there.”
Eeuuwww. But as rock’s foremost action heroes, danger is the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ business. Born in Melbourne (he emigrated to Los Angeles as a kid), Flea remains particularly enamored of the great Aussie outdoors, even though he admits it can scare him shitless.
“I spend time out in the bush and I’m so blown away by the depth of nature, the size of the sky, the feeling of the ocean, the wildlife,” he purrs, becoming more and more hippy-like with every passing moment. “And, at the same time, I feel like I’m about to have my throat slit at any second.
“It seems like everything that’s beautiful can kill you. Every place has its share of dark and light, but in Australia it’s very crystal clear and apparent. The yin and the yang in Australia is right in your face.”
Or outside your face mask, if your name is Chad Smith.
“I was just up on the Great Barrier Reef doing some scuba diving,” he reveals. “Saw some fish, some coral, saw some sharks. Just reef sharks [the fish-eating kind]. But I’m thinking of going on a cage drive outside Sydney…”
Anthony is a mite concerned by this possibility.
“Are you really? Uuhh…”
“I’m thinkin’ about it,” Chad nods. “The only thing I don’t like about that is the whole unnatural aspect of it.”
“Well, it’s unnatural,” Anthony says sternly, “and also, please ask them to be nice to the f***in’ white shark! It can be exciting, but you know what? The shark gets such a bad end of the stick.”
“Yeah, I’m not gonna do it if they prod ‘em and f*** with ‘em,” decides Chad, getting with the touchy-feely programme. “I love ‘em though, the sharks. We both love ‘em.”
“Love the shark,” Anthony smiles blissfully.
THE night has come, ominous rain clouds are all but obscure a glowing moon and the brutal strains of Nine Inch Nails are crisply audible from the Chili Peppers’ ivy-strewn backstage area. The elusive John Frusciante possibly excepted, the band all name Trent Reznor and co as their choice for hottest ticket of the festival. Kiedis also mentions Joe Strummer in reverential tones, Smith voices a desire to catch The Chemical Brothers’ closing slot in the dance tent and Flea waxes lyrical about Australian dance-rockers Yothu Yindi.
They’re in their element, these Chili Peppers. The summer festival circuit seems tailor-made for them, with their taut torsos designed for maximum exposure and their penchant for all things outdoor.
“As a kid I was not that guy,” Anthony says, attempting to trace the seeds of his festive lifestyle. “My friends were going to the rock festivals and I was not. The first really cool rock show I saw that I remember, I was with my dad. I was about eight years old. It was Deep Purple and Rod Stewart. But that was by proxy, hanging out with my dad. The first shows I went to under my own will were like X and Black Flag and The Germs, back in the heyday of punk rock in LA.”
“Mine was Jefferson Starship and Yes and somebody else in Chicago it was total punk rock, man.” Chad says, straight faced. “I was 15, I got really high on pot and I don’t really remember if I even stayed for Yes.”
I think the first real festival I went to was the Lollapalooza show, the very first one. It was ’91, and as I was watching Jane’s Addiction I had a dream,” the singer says with a dramatic touch of Martin Luther King vibrato. “I was like, “God, they are rocking so hard, they look so great and sound so amazing. I’d like to be them.’ So the next year we did it. My dream came true.”
And how. Counting their five Big Day Out shows and a handful arena dates in major cities, the Chili Peppers will play to nearly half a million Australians before they leave to flirt with deadly beasts and hairy traffic in some other corner of the planet. Tonight a fair percentage of the 46,000 Gold Coast punters are (rather rudely) chanting “Chiiilllliis! Chiiilllliis!”, well before NIN have concluded a set marred by a long threatened subtropical downpour and some persistent technical gremlins.
What’s immediately abundantly clear when Smith, Flea and (yes!) Frusciante kick into the cacophonic intro to “Around The World” is that all of the anticipation and adulation is justified. The trio rock like racing dogs’ bollocks from the outset, savagely serious musicians packed into tight scrum at the drum riser, and clownish funk fairies going mental at stage front.
Kiedis makes his entrance in a strange, black and red silk smock – something between a prize fighter’s robe and nun’s habit – in time to grab the mic and spread his legs in his trademark thigh-stretching stance. The degree of aerobic intensity is reflected all around him. Even the previously beardy and somewhat shapeless guitarist has shorn his locks, trimmed his beard and put in a few thousand bench presses to bring the Chili Pepper torso factor back to Rollins-defying standards.
“Give it Away” follows to an ear-splitting welcome and whoops! Kiedis is suddenly half nude as well! It may be the least surprising stage manoeuvre of the day.
“Getting’ me gear off? I stole that off The Dalai Lama,” the singer insists when queried on the whys and wherefores of the Chili Peppers’ favored non-attire. “Whenever he addresses the masses he usually strips down first, to do away with any inhibitions.”
“You know, the Pope is very commando underneath,” adds Smith (the Ramboesque term is an American allusion to an absence of underwear). “Let the breeze blow in, you know.”
“As was Mother Teresa,” Kiedis claims, chances of passing through the Pearly Gates diminishing by the second. “A lot of people don’t know that about her.”
“And Gandhi,” Smith remembers.
“Gandhi wore a jock-strap.”
“And Clinton wears a G-string, so that doesn’t really count.”
OK, if we’re descending to the nether regions of famous folk, let’s bring it back home, chaps. Socks on cocks: any regrets?
“I don’t regret any of our former antics of music or any of the mistakes or the blunders that we’ve made,” Anthony says sharply. “And by the way,” he adds, with a you-cocky-motherf***er tone,” socks on cocks was not a blunder by any means. Unfortunately, there was a certain segment of the population that couldn’t see past the sox. Quite literally really, as well,” he says, lapsing into a comical approximation of Spinal Tapney.
Right, cause we’ve got armadillos down our trousers,” comes Chad’s equally Dick Van Dyke rejoinder, “And I would just like to blanketly sat that I don’t regret anything we’re going to do in the future either.”
THE future. To say the least, it has not always been a given for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But whatever happens now, after the apparently unfeasible success of “Californication”, only a fool would expect them to quietly fade into the Hollywood sunset that almost claimed them three years ago.
“The really rewarding thing about this record is we’re not the band of the moment, the trendy band,” Anthony says, after the show, “That’s for the Kid Rocks and the Limp Bizkits of the world and people are enjoying this just for the music. Which is why we do it. This is a record that when we finish with it, seemed very much like one symbiotic piece, as a collection of songs. It wasn’t just one palatable song and a lot of garbage. To me, we could go on down the line and just keep releasing every song as a single and that would make sense.”
What about “Otherside”, though? What’s so special about that one? It’s your new single, after all.
“Otherside” is a song that is exceptionally near and dear to our hearts,” beams Anthony, lapsing into hippy-speak for one last time. “It felt like we really accomplished a perfectly honest sense of original expression with this song. Rarely do you feel like that, “Wow, this is exactly what I wanted to do with the song.’ It’s usually: “Should I change that?”, ‘The intro throws me’, ‘Maybe we should come back to that,’ This felt like, ‘Wow, this song was a gift from outer space!”
Never one to shy away from a cosmic possibility, Flea adapts the metaphor to encompass the entire Chili Peppers saga, past, present and future.
“The band is never something I worry about,” he says. “When it’s going well it’s the greatest thing and when it’s not going well I put my mind on other things. I’ve done plenty of work with the Red Hot Chili Peppers but I’m not really concerned if I don’t get to do it anymore. And to tell you the truth. I think that’s one of the reasons why we’ve had such longevity, just from letting go and letting it be what it’s going to be.
“When you hold on to something and try to squeeze it, it doesn’t work. I’m sure it’s like that with any artist and that’s always been my feeling with this band. I just let it be what it’s gonna be.”
Yeah, thanks. Anyone fancy a pint?