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KERRANG! Magazine, July 11, 1998
By Tony Woolliscroft
RIDERS ON THE STORM
On a wet June weekend in Washington D.C., the definitive Red Hot Chili Peppers line-up - Anthony Kiedis, Flea, John Frusciante, and Chad Smith - played their first gigs together in six years. Lightning strikes, tornado warnings, and bloodsugarsexmagik followed…
June 13/14, Washington D.C.: the Red Hot Chili Peppers are booked to play two sets at the Tibetan Freedom Concert at the 130,000-capacity RFK stadium. The Friday before the stadium dates, the band will appear at the 800-capacity 9:30 Club. These will be the first Chili Peppers gigs in 11 months. They will also mark the return of guitarist John Frusciante to the ranks, six years after he walked out on the band midway through the `BloodSugarSexMagik' tour.
The last time the Red Hot Chili Peppers walked onto a stage was at the Mount Fuji Festival in Japan in June '97. Much has happened to them since then. Drummer Chad Smith and erstwhile guitarist Dave Navarro initially recorded an album together under the monicker of Spread. It is still to be released. Navarro and Flea joined Perry Farrell and drummer Stephen Perkins on the brief Jane's Addiction reunion tour. Then in April of this year, Navarro announced that he was quitting the Chilis for a solo career, a decision all parties are putting down to "creative differences".
Frusciante's reinstatement was a shock. Ever since he's been out of the Chilis, rumours have circulated regarding his ailing health and alleged battles with drug addiction. For many, though, Frusciante completes the definitive Chili Peppers line-up alongside frontman Anthony Kiedis, Flea, and Smith.
The first time Frusciante appears in the lobby of the plush Carlton Hotel, no one outside of the band's inner circle recognises him. His hair is now shoulder-length and also its natural dark brown colour after years of multi-coloured dye jobs. He looks a little older, naturally, but also fit and well.
It's 7pm on a muggy Friday evening and we're speeding through the dilapidated streets of downtown Washington in the Chili Peppers' van. Located in one of the city's most crime-riddled neighborhoods, the 9:30 Club is surrounded by run-down bars and graffiti-covered walls. Tonight's gig was announced on a local radio station two hours ago and reportedly sold out in five minutes flat.
Inside, the 9:30 Club is like a bigger version of London's LA2. A balcony runs around the sides and back of the venue. The stage is small and low. The Chili Peppers soundcheck for 30 minutes, running through a handful of the songs they'll be performing later. They look happy and relaxed, Frusciante seemingly slotting in with the minimum of fuss. Musically, it doesn't sound as if he's ever been away.
The atmosphere in their compact, candle-lit dressing room in the hour before the Chilis go on is also low-key and chilled out. Lots of friends pop by to say a quick hello. Pearl Jam guitarist Stome Gossard drifts in to wish them well; he and Smith make plans to go out and "get drunk" after the show.
A little after midnight, the Chilis take to the stage and uncoil the slow-burning `Love Trilogy'. This sets the tone for the rest of their 45-minute set. They concentrate on their looser, funkier material, playing a number of songs they've never previously done live. There's `Blackeyed Blonde' off 1985's `Freaky Styley' album and the little-known B-side `Soul To Squeeze.'
Short and sweet, the gig is a resounding success. They return for a single, chaotic encore-a white-knuckle version of The Stooges' `Search and Destroy.' Afterwards, Smith and Gossard head off into the Washington night and the rest of the band retire to their hotel. Anthony Kiedis enthuses about playing onstage with Frusciante again on the drive back.
"I love it," he says. "I'm so enamoured with his playing, with his energy and with just everything about him. And the chemistry that happens when we are together…I have to pinch myself to make sure I'm not asleep, because it means that much to me and it feels that good that I'm just waiting for someone to go, `Just kidding'."
Rewind to 5pm on Friday evening. We're in Anthony Kiedis' hotel suite. The rubber-limbed frontman is sitting at a table in the lounge area of the suite, sipping water. He is explaining how the Red Hot Chili Peppers re-recruited John Frusciante.
"We had actually been loosely in touch with John before Dave Navarro left," says Kiedis. "but never with the concept of playing together. It was just that John had started getting his life back together and began coming around. He and Flea had kept in sporadic contact ever since he left the band, but he and I had not.
"Right around January, I went to visit him and we kind of made up with each other-decided that whatever happened in the past happened, said we loved each other. So we became friends again, never thinking that we would make music together. But when Dave left, Flea called me up and asked me what I thought about playing with John. I told him it would be a dream, but that it was a very far fetched concept. Then a week later we were playing together."
What was John up to before he re-joined?
"He was drinking smoothies (a non-alcoholic fruit cocktail) and listening to records," Kiedis laughs. "John has a great record collection. He sits on the floor at home listening to records, drinking smoothies and smoking cigarettes. But he also got healthy again and decided to stop living in his own universe of isolation and start getting back with people."
What was your first reunion meeting like?
"It happened before we decided to play together. It was pretty uncomfortable; both John and I were very awkward. It's kind of like meeting up with your ex-girlfriend after six years of not seeing her. But there was an undeniable love in the room. We both realised that all the negativity and resentment and bullshit of the past did not matter, and we were both willing to shovel that down the drain, so it was really positive.
"The first time we got together to play, it was amazing. It just felt so right. It didn't matter that we hadn't played together as a band for six years-it was natural."
The one thing Kiedis isn't going to be drawn on is Navarro. He shrugs off a question about the exact nature of the "creative differences" between the guitarist and the rest of the band. We turn to the aftermath of Navarro's departure. Was there ever a point when the Red Hot Chili Peppers considered splitting?
"No. As troubled and wild card-ish as we have been over the years, no. I think individuals have maybe contemplated that this wasn't working and it should come to an end, but we have never come to that conclusion as a band. Maybe there's been passing phases of `Holy shit!-this is going nowhere, I've got to move on' in the past. But then, lo and behold, something would happen, a little crack in the sky would open up, and it becomes, `Maybe I'll give this just one more try'."
Saturday morning: the Red Hot Chili Peppers arrive at RFK stadium early. There are various duties to perform for MTV, one of which involves Flea walking out into the crowd with a film crew and interviewing various stall-holders, fans and Buddhist monks about the festival-the brainchild of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch.
At times, Flea looks like a beach bum Pied Piper wandering around the site, a trail of people snaking out behind him. Kiedis, meanwhile, is charged with the responsibility of interviewing Radiohead.
Spread out across the back of the stadium grounds are stalls selling traditional Tibetan jewelry and information booths. Towering Tibetan wood carvings are ranged around the venue, and a makeshift monastery has been established in a huge tent. Backstage, the Chilis mingle with REM's Michael Stipe, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder and Sean Lennon.
At midday, the sun is out and there's not a cloud in site. Come 2pm, the sky is beginning to get ominously dark. An hour or so on, it looks as if someone has turned out all the lights and it starts pouring with rain. At 3:30pm, a massive lightning bolt strikes the stadium. Six people are injured when it hits a hand rail in the stands, one young women seriously: her heart stops beating and it takes the rapid intervention of an emergency crew to revive her.
By now, the rain is torrential. All the backstage areas are cleared and a tornado warning is issued. Needless to say, today's concert is quickly postponed: the organisers promising the Chilis, REM, Sonic Youth and Radiohead slots on the Sunday bill.
We grab a lift back to the hotel with Chad Smith in Pearl Jam's van. En route, we remind Chad that a tornado also washed out the Mount Fuji Festival and suggest that the Chilis are a curse to all outdoor events. His sides fail to split.
Next morning, news filters through that the Chili Peppers haven't got a slot on the bill today after all. Apparently, as the final band booked for the Festival, the Chilis were last in the queue and the organisers have been unable to fit them in. No amount of negotiating can resolve the situation and the mood in the band's camp is downbeat.
Pearl Jam come to their rescue. The Seattle crew supported the Chilis on their `BloodSugarSexMagik' U.S. tour and the two bands have remained friends ever since. They contact Chilis tour manager Tony Sellinger and inform him that they'll give up their 15-minute encore for the Chilis. The organisers aren't told about this plan, for fear that they'll pull the plug on the Chilis. So the bare essentials-guitars, effects pedals, and a snare drum-are smuggled onto the side of the stage while Pearl Jam are playing.
When Pearl Jam completes the last song of their set, the Chilis troop on. The two bands exchange hugs and a huge roar winds its way around the stadium. The Chilis launch straight into an adrenalised `Give It Away.' The `Power of Equality.' Then `Under the Bridge.' Fifteen minutes later, they're done. Kiedis and Flea scream "Free Tibet!", the crowd goes mental, and the four Chilis walk off with huge smiles stretched across their faces.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are planning to tour South America in August. After these dates, they'll begin work on a new studio album with John Frusciante.
"We started writing songs together about three weeks ago," reveals Kiedis. "We got together in Flea's garage for two to four hours. It's all very low-tech: four guys in a garage writing songs.
"Our goal is to have about 20 complete songs written and then we'll go into the studio. We don't want to go in half-baked, we're going to wait until we have it totally together. It could happen in August, September, or October-who knows?"
Have you decided on a producer yet?
"We have been thinking about it a lot. We love Rick Rubin, however, he is head of a major record label which devours a lot of his time. Rick's a great guy-he loves music, he gets into it and he smiles a lot- but he is just one possibility.
"We need someone for whom this album is going to mean everything during the period of time we're making it. We have considered the idea of working with Flood (The Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails). Not that he gives a f**k about us: we've never been able to get him or Brian Eno to return any of our calls," he smiles. "Another guy we'd like to work with is Tricky."
What are your hopes for the future?
"I'm trying not to have any expectations for the future at all. I just want to deal with each day as it comes and put all our energies and experience into everything, instead of worrying what may or may not happen. Obviously, we're going to be doing a record, but we'll deal with that when the time comes."
One of the band's songs has been a smash hit around the world this year-All Saints' version of `Under The Bridge.' Have you heard it?
"Yes," he beams. "I had someone from our record company in New York send it to me."
"Well, if they're the Saints then we're the sinners," he cackles. "And somewhere in between lies that song and their version of it. But hey, I think Chad wants to meet all four of them…"