[2011, Warner Bros.]
Okay, I better come out right at the beginning and throw my cards on the table. I’m a huge fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I love the music they make, and I own everything they have ever done. If you’re looking for a wholly impartial, totally unbiased review of the latest record, I need you to know that this is not going to be it. It’s not like I have the tattoo or anything, but I’m close. These guys have been part of my world since I really discovered music.
That said, on first listen to I’m With You, I have to say, I wasn’t instantly enraptured. I desperately wanted to love this album, but instead I kind of held a permanent cringe on my face as I flicked through the tracks. None of these songs seemed to jump out at me. Lyrically, they all seemed kind of dippy and… well, dumb. Sure, sonically, all the elements that made me love this band seemed to be present – there was Flea’s funky, driven bass lines, Chad’s incredible snare-popping drums, and Anthony’s inane syllabic wordplay and sibilance. And yet… Something.
I knew that, with John Frusciante’s departure from the band, that things would be different. I mean, on 1995′s One Hot Minute – the last time the band changed guitarists, the sound of the band was radically altered. I don’t know what I was expecting. But – not this.
Out of respect, I played the album through to completion, and these feelings of not-rightness remained. Disappointed, I left the album to sit on my iPod for a few days. And then one morning, I woke up with the melody to Brendan’s Death Song running through my head. I pulled the album out, and listened to it again. And it seemed to me to be a completely different record. What was a big rock band’s hotly anticipated latest big album, had become a much less hype-laden, more interesting musical journey.
Flea is on record as saying that with Josh Klinghoffer on guitar, that the Red Hot Chili Peppers were like a whole new band. And things definitely sound different. John Frusicante’s absence is clearly evident – in the lack of vocal harmonies, and also in the different approach to guitar playing. I remember reading an interview with Dave Navarro, where he said that playing funk licks made him “feel like a dickhead”. John, on the other hand, seemed to know exactly where to put sweet sharp funk laden guitar lines into the mix. Josh’s approach is much subtler, skillful, deft, layered and delicate – but not pointy, or overly funky. Some of the guitar tones are unique and new, and they bring a freshness into the band’s sound – I don’t think that even the most casual fan would mistake this record for one by any other band, but the new textures and production approaches sound great.
Some of the highlights: Did I Let You Know, which features sweet trumpet from Flea, and also lets Josh shine on the solos and verses. Ethiopia, with it’s splayed curious time signature, and Goodbye Hooray, a darker, layered tune with three part harmonies and a killer wah-bass solo that dissolves into a beautiful dreamy sound-scape.
This band has survived the ups and downs of the music industry, suffered through the death and near-death of guitarists, seen the highs and lows and pretty much done it all. It’s not like these guys really needed to make this record – it wasn’t a contractual obligation, or like they all need the cash. What it is, is mature and authentic artistic expression. It’s the kind of record that this band wanted to make, because they love making music – because it’s what they do.
Sure, the lyrics may be dippy and occasionally dumb. But you know what – they always have been. There are moments of lucidity and poignancy, such as on the piano laden Police Station, but in reality, I don’t think any of us love the Red Hot Chili Peppers because of meaningful lyrics or intriguing stories. And I think that for a lyricist, Anthony Kiedis makes a pretty good musician. His stream of consciousness, wordy free-balling vocals are his honest contribution to the music of the whole band, and this band is very much about creating honest music.
Once you set aside any ideas you might have as to what you think the band is supposed to sound like, and just come along for the musical journey, there’s a lot to like about the record.
Musichord Rating: 7.5/10
Each Easter Weekend, the most easterly point of Australia hosts a 5-day blues and roots festival that attracts some of the greatest names in music. Dubbed “Bluesfest“, the acts that are performing this year are amazing in their diversity and their talent. The biggest problem with a Festival this size, is determining exactly what to see, and more painfully, what to miss out on!
I started Day 1 at the main stage to see Xavier Rudd. Having seen him play earlier in his career, where he was playing everything – stompbox, didgeridoos, harmonica, kick drums, in addition to singing, it was great to see that he had brought along a few buddies (bass, drums) and to have him out from behind the kit, dancing, singing, and geeing the crowd up. The opening harmonica blasts of ‘Let Me Be’, sent the first big wave of cheers through the festival, as the impending sunset added a little gold to the lights from the stage. Xavier put on a great, high energy show,full of the charm and positivity that everyone was feeling.
Missed: Grace Woodroofe, CW Stoneking, NGA Tae, Mojo Businessmen
The next act of the day was the Arakwal People’s Opening Ceremony – bringing the tribal history of the original custodians of the land to the fore with traditional dances and music that has echoed through the region since long before the blues was discovered.
After a wander around the (increasingly muddy) grounds to grab some food, we settled into the Mojo tent to see Michael Franti and Spearhead. I had never seen a show live, although I’d heard some of the live shows.
To put it bluntly, I was completely dumbstruck, floored and amazed. The musicality and charm of the band – the swelling massive positivity from the crowd – This show had everything. A young couple appeared from the wings, and then just before The Sound of Sunshine, Michael offered him the mic, he went down on one knee to propose to his blushing girl, as the crowd exploded. She uttered a tearful yes, to further huge cheers, as Michael kicked into the song, and we all sang along while they both stood there, shellshocked. Any moment like this on stage has to be a highlight right? I mean, how were they going to top that?
Somehow, they did. in addition to the infectious, funky, high energy music, delivered with an intensity that echoed right through the huge Mojo stage, we saw two people plucked from the crowd, and handed two guitars, as the music slowed to a dramatic close, as we’re all waiting to see what happens… The last snap on the snare drum… This anonymous kid, without missing a beat blasts out the opening chords to Smells Like Teen Spirit. The band doesn’t miss a trick, kicking in with the massive drum blasts, and bass. The crowd went absolutely batshit insane.
After we had (slightly) recovered, Franti then told the crowd of the plight of Sarah Gapp, a fan who had suffered a stroke and become a victim of locked-in syndrome. After a meaningful and heartfelt appeal, he brought Sarah and her mother on to the stage, again to wild applause. Leaving his band on stage, Franti then wove his way through the crowd, singing Hey Hey Hey, to a platform in the center of the tent, as the band watched on from the stage. As he began to close the show with it’s singalong chorus, the crowd bellowing along, the band produced a birthday cake – turns out that it was Michael’s birthday. The crowd sung a resounding, boozy, exhausted and loud “Happy Birthday” as Michael blew out the candles on what was one of the most incredible concerts I had ever seen.
Missed: Ruthie Foster, Ernest Ranglin, The Hands and Bayjah
I first discovered The Meters through reading the liner notes for the Red Hot Chili Peppers Blood Sugar Sex Magik, which led me to pick up a compilation album. Having been exposed to their seminal, defining funk music through my youth, it was amazing to see the band live. (Their name change to “The Funky Meters” came about through a legal dispute involving their drummer and founding member of the original band.) They churned through some catchy, progressive and amazing drawn out funk jams, including Africa (covered by the Red Hot Chili Peppers as “Hollywood”). The skill and expertise of these guys was impressive, as was their ability to structure and improvise inside of these compelling funk grooves. These guys definitely fit into the Musical Legends category. They’ve been playing this kind of unique, genre defining music for over 40 years.
Missed: Los Lobos, Lunicano & Jah Messjah Band, Ray Beadle and Kingfisha
The headline show for the evening was Ben Harper & Relentless 7. Byron has a long ongoing history with Ben Harper – the festival was one of the key launching platforms for his career, so there was a palpable feeling of love in the crowd, as he opened with “With My Own Two Hands”, and followed that with “Diamonds on The Inside” – leading to some speculation about which band Ben had actually turned up with… In a surprise finale, Ben reunited the original lineup for the Innocent Criminals to close the show. I managed to sneak out midway to check out the guys from ZZ Top – the worlds biggest little blues rock band. They seemed extremely tight and polished, churning out the hits to the delight of their fans in the tent. I also breezed past the soulful sounds of the Bamboos at the Juke Stage, as I snuck over to get a quick look at Toots & The Maytals, one of the classic bands in the development of Reggae & Ska music. The tent was jumping with Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, leading the band, “Higher, Higher” with that killer amped up reggae beat – I was sorely tempted to jump in and dance, but Michael Franti had nearly killed me.
Five more days of this? Really? This is crazy. I need to go lie down.