Teri Van Horn, SonicNet:
Los Angelinos who weren't in close proximity of the Silver Lake district Friday night had to be resourceful if they wanted to hear the Red Hot Chili Peppers launch their new lineup on pirate radio. As soon as the L.A.-based funk punksters came on KBLT-FM live just before 9 p.m., the station's short range seemed to shrink up like 100 percent cotton during its first time in the dryer.
In Hollywood, where the station normally comes in crystal clear, an old boom box became key -- one with a manual dial that you could constantly adjust an itty-bitty bit while you stuck your hand out the window and pointed East. Only then could you hear singer Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea and drummer Chad Smith play their first performance with the latest Peppers guitarist, John Frusciante (who was the group's fourth guitarist, but left in 1992). Frusciante rejoined the band last month after former Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro quit to pursue his solo project, Spread.
The reunited foursome gave an acoustic performance of 10 "songs" (some closer to mini-jams), while original Black Flag and former Circle Jerks singer Keith Morris -- who was sitting in for regular DJ, ex-Minuteman Mike Watt -- played host. Laughter and mumblings among the Peppers and Morris could be heard between songs, but save from one instance where Kiedis announced, "We're gonna come back and play some more," only Morris addressed the listeners directly.
"I'm having a blast," Morris said before the second set. "It's kind-of hectic, but, hey. I hope you're having fun and enjoying this and you and all your pets are sitting around the stereo in the nude, drinking beer out of a bowl."
What came through loud and clear through the static was the Peppers -- who are working on their first album since 1995's One Hot Minute -- presenting themselves more as a band than ever before, with Kiedis, Flea and Frusciante each having moments on the mic. While Kiedis delivered versions of such old favorites as "I Could Have Lied" and "Soul to Squeeze," Frusciante and Flea played excerpts from their solo endeavors -- yet never did the Peppers seem less than utterly allied.
Though Flea's bass was almost invariably in the forefront with the vocals (rather appropriately, considering the funky form of the Peppers), the performance carried a quality of democracy in action. Perhaps that came through the most during "Police Helicopter," excerpted from the band's first, self-titled LP (1984). With Kiedis singing in his characteristically aggressive way, the song was 88 seconds of speedy, rhythmic guitar funk.
Frusciante, who will go down in rock history as both the Peppers' fourth and eighth guitarist, opened the performance with "Been Insane," from his 1994 solo debut, Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-shirt. Frusciante played on two of the Chili Peppers' most successful albums -- 1989's Mother's Milk, which included the hit "Knock Me Down" and a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground," and 1991's multi-platinum Blood Sugar Sex Magik, which spawned "Give It Away" (RealAudio excerpt), "Breaking the Girl" and "Under the Bridge." "I never thought I'd be back in this band," he told SonicNet Music News last month.
In his hasty, weirdly melodic voice, Flea sang three numbers, one of which was obviously influenced by jazz poet Iceberg Slim. (When Morris later asked him the title, Flea said he couldn't remember.) Later, he sang and whistled another tune that Morris later revealed was about "about his ex-wife," featuring the lyrics "A pig is a pig, and a whore is a whore." During his final tune, "Love Them So," Flea messed up mildly, saying, "Oh, shit," and then repeating a lyric, heightening the affair's raw and right-there feel.
Morris joined the Peppers for the finale, Black Flag's classic "Nervous Breakdown," the A-side of the legendary punk group's 1978 SST Records single. "C'mon, punk rock," someone said before they started. "Give me, give me."
Spewing out the hyper-driven anthem, the Peppers and their guest proved that unplugged can still be clamorous. Together, they chanted, "I don't know what the fuck I'm doing/ I don't believe in anything/ I just wanna -- Ahhh."
"I got to perform a song that I used to perform quite a bit with Black Flag, with the fabulous Red Hot Chili Peppers," Morris said afterward. "It was a pleasure having the Chili Peppers here in the studio tonight. It was very interesting, and I had a good time."