Review The Garage London May 2002


Making thanks to Stephen Mahon for the article!


‘By The Way’


‘Power Of Equality’

‘I Could Die For You’

‘I Could Have Lied’/ ‘Californication’

‘Scar Tissue

‘Don’t Forget Me’

‘Give It Away’

‘Search And Destroy’

‘Universally Speaking’

‘Under The Bridge
Scar tissue

Red Hot Chili Peppers may be one of the world’s biggest rock bands, but in the smallest of venues their fragility has the power to enchant.

Red Hot Chili Peppers

The Garage, London

JULIE’S NEVER SEEN THE RED Hot Chili Peppers live before, though due to a quirk of fate (her boyfriend’s luck and overwhelming generosity — he won a ticket in a Radio 1 competition and gave it to her) her first experience of the band is at one of the smallest venues the Chilis have ever played in the UK.
“Oh my god,” she sighs, making it all in to one word, and looking momentarily like a goldfish that’s fallen from its bowl. Red Hot vocalist Anthony Kiedis (who, as history will bear out, was once known as Antwan The Swan) is no more than 20 feet away, performing a juddering two-step dance, mic stand slung casually to one side. He, like the rest of the band stuck in the claustrophobic heat of the minute Garage venue, has managed to keep his shirt on for less time than it took them to play their opening song. At 39, in astonishing shape (though not much taller than most action figures) and with a torso full of tattoos, he’s a thing to behold from the back of a stadium; in a small club his charisma and zeal are like a broadside to the senses. He jumps around a lot, as do all the Red Hot Chili Peppers, sometimes — delightedly — right into one another.

Much has been made of bands forging bonds of near brotherhood, but RCHP’s traumatic 20-year career is one very nearly poleaxed by tragedy and drugs. They’ve almost broken up four times, lost guitarist Hillel Slovak to heroin, ditto John Frusciante (though, he eventually came back from the drug-addled wilderness). Kiedis himself suffered prolonged battles with the drug and, tellingly, their new album, ‘By The Way’ (which this show pre-empts), is only the second time that they’ve recorded two successive albums with the same line-up.

The last time was with Frusciante in the band, too, when they broke commercially with 1989’s ‘Mother’s Milk’ and its follow-up two years later, the eight million-plus-selling ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’. 1995’s ‘One Hot Minute’ (with Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro on guitar) was messy and incoherent, it reviewed poorly and sold similarly well. Frusciante returned for 1999’s remarkable ‘Californication’ album (bassist Flea reportedly told Kiedis that he’d leave after ‘One Hot Minute’ if Frusciante didn’t come back to the band). It’s now sold in the region of 13 million copies.

‘By The Way’, the single, may tread a similar path to its musical predecessor, but the album of the same name is a gentler, less rambunctious affair. On the newer material played tonight, Frusciante joins Kiedis in songs built around a layer of harmonies wrapped around uncomplicated arrangements, the twin vocal approach belying a more sensitive approach. The results are ecstatic yet sublime. Frusciante’s bare, vividly scarred arms act as an equally odd juxtaposition, he looks like he might have just climbed down from the back of a truck, but his voice is durable and sweet, his playing graceful and boundless. At one point, when he plays the introduction to ‘Scar Tissue’ ahead of schedule, and the rest of the band exchange brief, telling glances, before Kiedis spins around to embrace him, whispering softly close to his face, it’s oddly touching.

Otherwise, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are their familiar, unified selves. Irrepressible and almost orgiastic in their bombast. It’s a real delight to experience them in such a small venue, but then they’re rarely troubled by making the grandest of halls feel intimate. The tightly knit audience swells and boils against the front of the stage, and the band respond to the energy almost in spite of themselves. In a history filled with equal parts bad luck and blood, the Chili Peppers have finally created their own quiet revolution and somehow allowed themselves the space to evolve. It’s truly something to see.

Philip Wilding

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