One-time darlings of the LA alternative music scene, Red Hot Chili Peppers were announced this morning for the Reading and Leeds Festivals 2016. The band, who have seen their good fortune fading in recent years, seem slowly to be sliding into a void of cultural irrelevance. Could next year’s European festival tour be the much needed shot to the arm to revive the Chilis?
Godfather of soul and grandfather of hip-hop, the late James Brown once claimed to have a “doctorate in funk”, a fictitious title he said he wanted to put to good use.
You’d hope then that Brown would be happy to be posthumously recognised as The Don of LA’s school of funk-rock in the early nineties. Rage Against the Machine, Incubus, and Faith No More all toyed with chart success back then, but it was Red Hot Chili Peppers that went on to find global commercial success with their unique funk-rock formula.
Formed in 1983, their early experiments in fusing metal with slappa-da-bass-funk bore rich and often tangy fruit. Their sophomore record, 1985’s ‘Freakey Styley’ was produced by Parliament-Funkadelic maestro George Clinton and captured LA punks giving birth to a chubby funk baby. The Famous Flames reincarnated on the West Coast.
These salad days were filled with excess; the kind of shirt-less, white-boy rapping and playful non-conformity that made their bombastic cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’ at the end of the decade such a smash hit with the MTV Gen. But it was with ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’, in 1991, that Red Hot Chili Peppers found true international fame and set forth on more than a decade long reign at the top of the worldwide charts.
Eight years and three personnel changes later, the band’s seventh studio album ‘Californication’ was the promised follow-up that everyone had been waiting for. Selling more than 16 million copies, it spawned hit singles aplenty, including ‘Scar Tissue’, ‘Otherside’, and the titular ‘Californication’.
Once ‘By the Way’ hit the CD shelves (remember these?) in 2002, Red Hot Chili Peppers could be rightfully chalked up as the biggest band in the world. International tour dates, including sell out shows at Hyde Park, V Festival and Ireland’s Slane Castle, followed.
The next move was to be the one that showed the cracks in the crown. ‘Stadium Arcadium’, a double album more than 122 minutes in length, was the group’s last with guitarist John Frusciante and sold far less than its two predecessors.
In the August of 2007 they played Reading and Leeds, the last two shows of a gruelling 18 month world tour. It was their third at the twinned festivals (after headlining in 1994 and 1999) and their Reading performance was marred by sound issues then maligned by the critics as the band chose jam session vibes over crowd-pleasing tunes. They dropped fan favourites like ‘Under The Bridge’ and ‘Suck My Kiss’ from the setlist. The Guardian praised the “seamless join from a blistering punk jazz workout into a gloriously subtle Californication” at their Leeds show but criticised the band for “too much noodling and too few of those greatest hits”.
After another greatest hits release and time apart to regroup, the band plotted their return and in 2011 released ‘I’m with You’. The record was about as relevant as the Damien Hirst artwork that accompanied it. So, whilst receiving some favourable reviews and even a Grammy nomination, the album was the band’s lowest selling release since signing with Warner in 1991.
By now, Anthony Kiedis - with a moustache and 20-year-old girlfriend on his arm - is looking less like the man with the mojo and more like your dad, caught dancing solitary and out of time at a wedding reception. Just on this occasion, he’s dancing with his cock in a sock.
The four piece, Josh Klinghoffer now in for John Frusciante, broke from their latest touring schedule last summer and began work on the following up, deciding at that point to part ways with long-time producer Rick Rubin and introduce Danger Mouse to sessions for their as-yet-untitled eleventh studio album.
With no release date in the diary, it remains to be seen whether Anthony Kiedis (53), Flea (53), Chad Smith (54) and Josh (36) can recapture the blood, sugar, sex, magik of former glories. Festival fans will certainly be looking for re-vitalised RHCP when the band stop at Reading and Leeds, Germany’s Rock am Ring and Rock im Park, Austria’s Novarock, Poland’s Open’er Festival, Denmark’s Roskilde Festival, Belgium’s Rock Werchter, and Pinkpop in the Netherlands next summer.
Addictions, interpersonal differences and weariness with the road have all held them back before but, right now, the Chili Peppers need a major win more than ever. Here’s a band that were on the peak of their form at the time of the first Gulf war, it’s harder to justify the reverence as we go about waging our third war in the region.
Whether the world is ready to accept the one-time goofballs as new elder statesmen of rock, only time will tell. Their funkadelic credentials, tasteless sense of style and all those iconic songs from four decades in music will certainly make the spectacle something impossible to ignore.
Click here for the first Reading and Leeds line-up announcement.