Sunday, May 6, 2012


photo credit: Maria Ives 

There was nowhere I’d rather have been Friday night. It’s no exaggeration that Adam Yauch had a big impact on my life, and going to a Red Hot Chili Peppers show at the Prudential Center in Newark was just what I needed, after having written an obit for the man at my day job. I wrote about the show for work, but here's my more personal take. 

They were unbelievable.  Three weeks ago at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Flea mentioned that he gets on his knees and prays before every show and is thankful that he gets to do it.  Cynics may not believe that… but I’m not a cynic.  And if you see him perform, you know that playing means everything to him.  It was 110% evident at the show. Most of the set was songs that he’s played hundreds of times, and yet he plays all of them as if the world depends on it. He's grateful for the opportunity to do what he does, and that point was most likely hammered home for him Friday following Yauch's passing. The man was everyone's mind, there was no way of getting around it. They were playing  Beastie Boys records over the P.A. during the night, and just one song into the set (they opened with the best song from I'm With You, "Monarchy of Roses"), Flea busted out Yauch's bassline for "Gratitude" (appropriately enough).  

After two more amazing songs ("Around The World" and "Otherside") Anthony Kiedis mentioned Yauch ("We lost a good man today, the world lost a lot of beauty!"). 
After a few more songs ("Charlie" and "Dani California") Flea asked Anthony, "What does it say on your shirt?" to which Anthony replied "'MCA!'" Later in the show, the band did an instrumental jam on the B-Boys' "So Whatcha Want"(you can see a bootleggy version of it on YouTube here - but by the way, you can buy legal downloads of every show on the Chili Peppers tour on their website and I will surely download this one, it's a show I'll never forget).

photo credit: Maria Ives 
The show would have been great no matter what was going on in the world.  So many songs shook the room, even some of the mellow ones, like "Dani California," "The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie," "Californication," and "Under The Bridge."

I think it might have been the first time I've seen them play "Sir Psycho Sexy," which I thought was awesome.  It's like if Billy Preston joined The Beatles and they lasted a little longer, they might have done a song like that. It was so great live. The thing is, not many frontmen could deliver those lyrics way Kiedis does.  Is he the best singer in the world?  I don't know, but he is surely one of the best frontmen I've ever seen.  I'm pretty sure this show was also the first time I saw them do their jumpy cover of Robert Johnson's "They're Red Hot."  Even though it clocks in at under two minutes, I love it. It's a good reminder that you can be respectful of the blues without being too reverent, and that the blues was dance music at one point.

Of course, the building damn near exploded with energy when they did their cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" and of course "Give It Away." During the latter, I tweeted that I felt that that song is so funky, it's on the level of George Clinton, Sly & The Family Stone and James Brown. I realize that kind of talk could get me killed in some places, but I really believe it.  I have lots of records by all three of those guys.  Flea is one of the funkiest bassists ever, but Chad Smith is the secret sauce that makes their songs arena anthems.  I think he's kind of underrated.

I was wondering how good they'd be live, post-John Frusciante. Although John wasn't a founding member, when he joined, he really brought the band to a new level (Flea mentioned at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that "our musical bond changed my life forever").  How do you follow that up?  How do you replace someone like that? The first time John left, they ultimately filled the guitar spot with Dave Navarro - a great guitarist, but it didn't really work. The first few times I saw the Chili Peppers was with Dave: great shows, but when John returned, it was a totally different thing.  It wasn't a supergroup, it was a band.

So, I wondered, when John quit again, would it be time for the band to hang it up?  I'm glad to report the answer is a big HELL NO. I guess it helps that new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer was brought into the fold by John in the first place.  They met when Josh's group, Bicycle Thief, opened on the Californication tour. Josh played on lots of John's solo albums, they had a band together called Ataxia, and then John brought Josh on as an extra guitarist/keyboardist on the Stadium Arcadium tour.
photo credit: Maria Ives 

So, anyway, he was incredible. I was bummed that John left the band, but that's not criticism of Josh at all, and they are as legit as ever with him onboard.  He's proud to be there, proud to play those songs.  Some people may question the fact that he's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - at the age of 33 he's the youngest inductee ever, and he's only played on one album.  And yeah, he was probably included because of pressure from the band's very powerful management. But as I said, I'm not a cynic. Having seen this concert, I'll take it as a vote of confidence in the future of this band, which I think will last for years to come.  If I'm With You was their Mother's Milk (i.e. their first album with a new guitarist), then maybe the next one can be their Bloodsugarsexmagik (i.e. their second with that guitarist... and Bloodsugarsexmagik is, in my mind, their greatest work).

I do have one issue with the band's live performance.  Why no songs from the Hillel Slovak era?  It's the only thing I take issue with.  But that said, there's always next tour.  And as long as this band is touring, I'll be showing up and rocking out.

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