Living legends saved by a soulful groove
They've gone through drugs, deaths and dark nights of the soul, but the Chili Peppers are still very Hot, writes Barry Egan
YOU could call it The Unstoppable Groove of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
One newspaper described them as the band that couldn't be stopped -- not by drug abuse nor by a member (Hillel Slovak) dropping dead from heroin speedballs going wrong. (Note to the kids reading this: the heroin speedballs rarely go right. You'll end up dead...)
But living legends The Red Hot Chili Peppers have survived three decades, and lost a dozen members -- some through death, others through more conventional means. In 2009, their guitarist of 15 years (and five albums) left the band for the second and final time. The band's charismatic bassist Michael 'Flea' Balzary -- his recent dress sense includes monogrammed romper-suit the same baby blue colour that he dyed his hair -- told Rolling Stone magazine: "John would come in with an idea, bam, and I'd pick it up. Or I'd have an idea, and boom, he'd play the right thing. Done." He added that John's departure meant his band felt it was "missing a family member".
But 31-year-old Josh Klinghoffer is the Red Hot Chili Peppers' new family member. They are all set to tour the new album I'm With You, full of songs, as ever, about bittersweet love and spiritual intransigence under the burning sun of crazy California. On Factory of Faith, Anthony Keidis sings: "All my life, I was swingin' for the fence/ Always lookin' for the triple/ Never playing good defence."
It has to be said that none of the Red Hot Chili Peppers have played particularly good defence. But there's no doubt that music saved their lives... well, most of them anyway.
Flea recalled recently the "bad, bad shit, the kind that ends you up in jail, dead. Anthony, Hillel, my friends who really felt like my family -- we took our drugs together. It was our communion. But it became clear -- people's lives ruined, nothing beautiful about it." Mercifully, he stopped taking drugs at the age of 30. The band's lead singer Anthony Kiedis has been off drugs since 2000.
Ironically, perhaps his most famous lyric and doubtless the Red Hot Chili Pepper's biggest hit to date was Under The Bridge, allegedly about Kiedis's dark nights of the soul as a heroin addict and the emptiness that came with it. The bridge mentioned in the song is allegedly the place where Keidis went to score drugs and get wasted.
Keidis, so the story goes, took the death of fellow band member and his best friend Hillel Slovak on June 25, 1988, (in the middle of recording the band's fourth album due to be called Rockin' Freakapotamus) particularly badly. The legend of how the story came into being was that a deeply depressed and frightened Keidis was sitting in his car in Los Angeles one night and began singing: "Sometimes I feel like I don't have a partner. . ."
They have sold over 70 million records worldwide and are a big deal. On record and live, they come across like a Radiohead playing with James Brown's band on LSD. Or the Republic Of Loose jamming with the ghosts of Joy Division and Sly & The Family Stone. They are brilliant live -- it is a full-on show of relentless alt funk and high-energy antics. I interviewed Keidis once; in 1988 in LA. He was totally wired. All these years later, he doesn't seemed to have changed. He still comes across like he has drunk a hundred Red Bulls. I am looking to see him and Red Hot Chili Peppers at Croke Park on June 26 this summer.
There's already a buzz building about the show. Not least because Noel Gallagher and his High Flying Birds are the special guests. Before that, the former Oasis godhead plays an 02 show on February 17. Lest we forget, Noel played one of the gigs of the year 2011 with his stomping two-hour set at the Olympia Theatre last October.