Music News

Peppers and Brimstone

I have this recurring nightmare where I'm in hell and Satan is informing me with a sulfurous chuckle that my punishment for a life of sin is spending eternity as an entertainment reporter for a local TV station. In Phoenix, nonetheless; the town where a talking head's transfer to the Big Bad Apple is front-page news.

Usually in this dream, about the time a scaly, fork-tongued demon that bears a suspicious resemblance to Kent Dana starts prancing toward me with a three-piece suit in one talon and barber's shears in the other, I wake up thrashing, screaming, "Back! Back, minion of Satan!"

Not that I'm going to change my ways. The dreams are a little disconcerting--and I'm not making any of this up (except for the Kent Dana part)--but my one semester of pop psych tells me they have more to do with sellout anxiety than a fear of getting barbecued in Hades.

I guess I could throw down $30 ($40 if you want fake feathers and fake beads) for a dream catcher at some New Age schlock shop. But why try to edit your dreams? They're messengers from the subconscious, and this nightmare is whispering in my ear: "Forget more money. They'll make you cut your hair and wear silly clothes. TV news is the great Satan."

It's a message worth consciously reinforcing. To that end, here is an impersonation of me doing a live spot on the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert (April 3, America West Arena). It's more fun than writing the review straight, but please, someone shoot me if this ever comes true.

Ken Dawl, news anchor: . . . and that is one pepper festival I'll be sure not to miss. Thanks for that lead story, Suzy. (Turns toward camera.) And speaking of peppers, we go now live to America West Arena in downtown Phoenix, where 6,000 happy Valley rock fans gathered tonight for a rock concert by the Los Angeles rock band the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The show just let out, and our Generation X reporter David Sellout is on the scene. So Dave, I'll bet that concert was really Red Hot.

Sellout: That's right, Ken, and let me tell you--picking up Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro was a sweet move on the Peppers' part. Navarro really shredded tonight. Right at the end of "One Big Mob," he and Peppers bassist Flea both launched into blazing outros on their respective instruments; it was really--

KD: Say, Dave, where did he get the name "Flea"?
DS: I don't know. Where did you get the name "Ken"? (Mutters "asshole" under breath.) So anyway, Navarro also served up some tasty wah-wah work on "Walkabout," and his solo on that song--the only one he took all night--was liquid lightning. His fingers looked like they were dancing on the fret board.

By the way, Ken, "Walkabout" is a good example of the heightened political consciousness the Peppers demonstrate on their new album, One Hot Minute. It's a song about self-engineered spiritual discovery, which also makes the point that the Australian aborigines didn't always live in the desert. Before England started shipping prisoners down under, the abos stuck closer to the beaches, where there was more water and food . . .

KD: Self-engineered spiritual discovery? Boy, that's a mouthful. So, I'll bet they had some interesting stage decorations.

DS: Uh, well, they had this big red head that sort of looked like the Ewok witch doctor in Return of the Jedi, and this giant scrim backdrop that screened footage of tiger sharks and slow-motion tribal dancers.

KD: Boy, didn't the sharks eat the dancers?
DS: No, they were two different film loops. The sharks and dancers were never together. (Mutters "idiot" under breath.)

And I have to say, Ken, those sharks carried a heavy symbolic meaning. Because like a shark, a rock band has to always keep moving, or it'll die. The Red Hot Chili Peppers have been around for more than a decade now, and they've come far since "Catholic School Girls Rule."

KD: You know, I went to a Catholic school.
DS: That's great, Ken. Anyway, what was really impressive about the concert tonight was the depth and diversity of the band's repertoire. The set list was dominated by material off the last two Red Hot albums, BloodSugarSexMagik and One Hot Minute--the Peppers' crispest, most accessible albums to date--but the band also reached way back to its frantic funk days on songs such as "Fight Like a Brave."

Being in the arena tonight was like sitting at a blackjack table and getting face card after face card--the good hits just kept coming. Stand-and-shout rockers like "Suck My Kiss," "Give It Away," "Coffeeshop," "Aeroplane" and "BloodSugarSexMagik" were nicely counterweighted with introspective, melodic numbers like "My Friends" and the Peppers' crossover smash "Under the Bridge."

KD: Dave, we're just about out of time. Can you give us a few final Red Hot highlights?

DS: (Resigned.) Sure. Flea's bass break on "Higher Ground" sounded like Zeus chucking lightning bolts with his switch locked on "full-auto." Lead singer Anthony Kiedis' best moment came at the end of the take-a-breather instrumental break in "Give It Away." Right when his band redetonated the song, Kiedis suddenly started whirling around the stage, rat-a-tat-tatting the chorus and spinning his hair to reveal the full-piece tattoo of a thunderbird on his back.

Also excellent was Flea taking over the mike on "Pea." The diminutive bassist rendered his ode to pacifism in a shaky falsetto, attacking "homophobic, redneck dicks." The best part was watching a good fourth of this Phoenix audience do a "Who, me?" double take. And finally, Navarro's solo excerpting of the Velvet Underground's "Heroin" was a poignant comment, considering that he, his previous band's leader Perry Farrell, and all of the Peppers have been to the brink and back with the big H. You might remember that original Red Hot guitarist Hillel Slovak died of an overdose.

KD: Well, remember: Drugs are bad.
Thanks, Dave, that certainly sounds like it was one hot show. And speaking of hot, here's Rich with the weather . . .

I say again: "Nooooo!"
--David Holthouse