Living for Live Music

Red Hot Chili Peppers

A couple of weeks ago I spoke with a friend about some experiences I endured over twenty years ago. At the time I was settling into quiet, family life. I was not recording or writing music or involved with record promotion. In fact, I had just put my music newsletter called Florida Music Letter into hiatus and begun work at a now defunct regional music magazine. The musical fire inside me was by then just a flame. The creative juices now flowing were for business only, with everything about finding solutions for businesses through advertisement. Nonetheless, the music magazine seemed like the right outlet for my energy. From the beginning I could understand the big picture of producing publications. I was able to analyze the strengths and weaknesses in the magazines efforts in reaching its overall goals. Quickly I discerned that even though the magazine covered all genres of music, the primary focus was alternative music. The alternative music format worked well throughout other parts of Florida in the early 1990’s, but Miami was a different market, something I knew very well.

Although the changing Miami musical landscape may not have been the best fit for an alternative music magazine, there were still many wonderful bands throughout the area working hard at making music and looking for major record company gold. Even though some bands found more success than others, I developed respect for their resolve. Each band worked to improve musically, write better songs and improve individually. The bands did record music, but the best could be heard in their live performances. Those live musical shows were what their audiences craved, and the bands worked to satisfy this need for good live music. This musical story was being told around the world, and one of the bands still working hard in live performance is our featured band: Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Red Hot Chili Peppers formed in Los Angeles in 1983. Originally going under the band name of Tony Flow and the Majestic Masters of Mayhem, their first performance was at the Rhythm Lounge to a crowd of approximately 30 people. The performance was so lively, that the band was asked to return the following week. Due to this unexpected success, the band changed its name to The Red Hot Chili Peppers, playing several more shows at various LA clubs and musical venues.

The group’s musical style primarily consists of rock with an emphasis on funk, as well as elements from other genres such as punk rock and psychedelic rock. When played live, they incorporate many aspects of jam band due to the improvised nature of much of their performances. As with most bands, the Chili Peppers endured various personnel changes with the constants being lead man Anthony Kiedis and bassists Flea. Even with the changes the band continued to create a louder buzz through its live performances and recordings. Then, on September 24, 1991, Blood Sugar Sex Magik was released. “Give It Away” was released as the first single; it eventually became one of the band’s biggest and most well known songs, winning a Grammy Award in 1992 for “Best Hard Rock Performance With Vocal” and became the band’s first number one single on the Modern Rock chart.

Through all the success and personnel issues and changes, the one constant was the individual musicianship of Chili Pepper members. The Red Hot Chili Peppers were very good and gave great live performances. We are now over thirty years after the Chili Peppers got their start, and they are still going strong. In fact, no one was surprised when they were selected to appear in the Super Bowl halftime show along with Bruno Mars earlier this year. Upon hearing the news of the performers I thought as others this was a great idea. My thinking was confirmed correct as I along with millions of others waited until halftime and then enjoyed a wonderful show. I really did not watch much of the game! I had no interest this year. I just wanted to see the halftime show. However, after all the accolades from viewers who enjoyed the performance, we now have controversy.

Many commented that they noticed that during the performance bassist Flea and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer did not have their guitars plugged in. Were they just pretending to play? Of course this controversy comes on the heels of Beyonce’s inauguration performance using a back track. Flea made a statement that offered the explanation. He said the following:

“When we were asked by the NFL and Bruno to play our song Give It Away at the Super Bowl, it was made clear to us that the vocals would be live, but the bass, drums, and guitar would be pre-recorded. I understand the NFL’s stance on this, given they only have a few minutes to set up the stage, there a zillion things that could go wrong and ruin the sound for the folks watching in the stadium and the t.v. viewers. There was not any room for argument on this; the NFL does not want to risk their show being botched by bad sound, period. We recorded a track for the day, just banged one out from our hearts that was very like in spirit to the versions we have been playing live the last few years with our beloved Josh on guitar.

For the actual performance, Josh, Chad, and I were playing along with the pre recorded track so there was no need to plug in our guitars, so we did not. Could we have plugged them in and avoided bumming people out who have expressed disappointment that the instrumental track was pre recorded? Of course easily we could have and this would be a non-issue. We thought it better to not pretend. It seemed like the realest thing to do in the circumstance. It was like making a music video in front of a gazillion people, except with live vocals, and only one chance to rock it. Our only thought was to bring the spirit of who we are to the people.”

I’m so happy he made that statement. It was not necessary, but it put an end to some speculation by uninformed critics that the Chili Peppers cannot perform live music. Not only can they play live, but they are very good!

Photo by Clara Nalzary

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