The small crowd of about a hundred were let into the warmly lit intimate Alterknit lounge at the L.A. Knitting Factory around 10:30. Joe Lally, Fugazi bassist and the third member of Performances Three and Four was in the attendance, as was John's mother Gayle. About fifteen minutes later, John Frusciante and Josh Klinghoffer quietly stepped onto the stage, which bore the most minimalistic of set-ups, simply some speakers, a synthesizer keyboard resting on the floor, and John's semi-infamous stack of wires and knobs speaking more to a piece of modern art than musical instrument. A smattering of applause greeted the pair as they each sat before their instruments, and they began to play.
To fans of John's latest album "Shadows Collide With People", the song the duo began to play was immediately recognized as the appropriately named "-00Ghost27". The grand spectrum of sound resonated like an indoor storm, while John's fingers worked his machine's knobs, manipulating a screeching hum that gave me the impression of being the sound your heart might make when given a sudden scare. The room was transformed into a sonic haunted house inhabited not by demons, but the faint echoes of chorus angels emanating from the Josh's keyboard.
In stature, John exhibited stoic intensity as he sat cross-legged on the floor, his hair obscuring his face. His fingers twisted and wobbled on the knobs, and the boundary between himself and his instrument diminshed. Every twitch of his fingers reflected in his face: eyes shut, mouth agape, his face twitching and clenching in rhythm with the pages of his aural novel. If he turned one knob, the symphonious static hiss moved from one plane to another as if a dramatic narrative were being put down. If he adjusted another, he tossed a musical hill into the mix, as if he were putting a wa-wa pedal on the wind.
Josh, on the other hand, his thin body hunched over his keyboard, looked more like a mad monk in search of absolution. His slightly-oversized suit hung off him, while crimson socks clashed with the dirty gray carpet on the stage. Where John is smooth, Josh is severe. The latter exhibits pure physicality. His body is a musical hyperbole, and his style contains an honesty that harkens back to a caveman primitively beating on his drum. While music seems to flow out of John in a maestro's harnessed stream, Josh hordes it inside his body until it explodes out of his every pore, contorting his body in what looks like the musical equivalent of an ether binge.
Together, the two are explosive.
After about fifteen minutes of improvisation on "-00Ghost27", and despite a technical mishap which was quickly solved by John replacing one of his machine's wires, John's guitar tech Dave Lee handed the performers their guitars. What followed was a work of pure beauty. Stylistically, it belongs more to John's work for Vincent Gallo's film "Brown Bunny" than his latest album. Though unfair to the attempt to categorize the song, it might be best described as "Prostitution Song" meets "Californication". Josh provided most of the chords, while John created a sad, vibrant quilt by picking one string at a time. It was as if Josh's chords were a river and each of John's notes were stones leading across. The Frusciante signature was evidenced as the silences within the song sang as loudly as any string. As the song progressed, so did the complexity of John's guitar. The tempered and mature funk that reminds you this man is a Chili Pepper transported me back in time to a perfect baby boomer high school prom that never existed but in my imagination. And just as I began to get my footing in that world, I was torn from my fantasy as John repeated one note over-and-over, his lips pulled back from his teeth and guitar screaming in raw and touchingly ineloquent pain (thereby creating eloquence which is his mastery).
The song's final note lived and died, and John turned to the audience, held up his hands with an innocent smile and said "That's it" before heading off-stage. Even after the lights came up and the crew began to take down the stage, the audience remained. Some perhaps hoping for John's return, but most simply holding vigil in acknowledging that they were part of something beautiful. A world where artist and audience stood four feet from each other. Where no men in bright yellow jackets told you to keep back. Where nobody pushed and shoved or was injured crowd-surfing. There was simply giving and receiving. Respect. Love. And music.