Chili Peppers, Reheated

When guitarist John Frusciante walked away, things started to cool off for the HFStival-bound funk punkers. Now that he's back, the band's red-hot again.

May 27, 1999|By J.D.Considine | J.D.Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Contrary to what the song says, breaking up is not hard to do. Rock bands do it all the time, in fact.

Getting back together is another matter entirely. It's always hard for a band to re-integrate a member who walked away -- just ask Van Halen. So when the Red Hot Chili Peppers appeared onstage at the Tibetan Freedom Concert last year with John Frusciante back on guitar, many fans figured the reunion was temporary at best.

After all, the Chili Peppers have been notoriously hard on guitar players. In its 13-year existence, the L.A.-based funk punk band has gone through seven different pickers, from original member Hillel Slovak (who died of a heroin overdose in 1988) to Dave Navarro, who played on the Peppers' last album, "One Hot Minute."

But Frusciante's 1992 departure during the "BloodSugarSexMagik" tour was especially awkward. Not only was the band enjoying its first taste of mainstream acceptance, thanks to such hits as "Give It Away" and the Hendrix-influenced "Under the Bridge," but also the Chilis were about to headline the 1992 Lollapalooza Festival when Frusciante abruptly quit.

However, if the situation left the other members -- singer Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, and drummer Chad Smith -- with hard feelings, they've long since forgotten. With the band about to release its eighth album, "Californication," and ready to headline at this weekend's HFStival, the Chili Peppers couldn't be happier to have Frusciante back in the fold.

"This seemed like the right time to get back together with John," says singer Anthony Kiedis, over the phone from Los Angeles. "It just seemed like the time was right to have a change."

"They just asked me to be in the band, and I thought it definitely seemed like it would be a fun thing to do at that point," says Frusciante. "Because me and Anthony had hung out a couple times, and I saw that there was a possibility for friendship where there hadn't been before."

Frusciante adds that the reason he quit in the first place was that he felt disconnected from Kiedis. "We had gotten to a point where any sort of communication between us that was positive would have been forced, because there had been so many bad vibes accumulated over the course of the tour," he explains.

Although the Chili Peppers recruited a series of replacements, and recorded "One Hot Minute" with Navarro, things within the band remained uneasy. In fact, after finishing the "Minute" tour with Navarro, the band essentially ground to a halt.

"It's not like we ever said `we quit' or anything," says Flea, "it just seemed like we just hit a spot where things were not happening. But I think that we needed to get to that spot, in order to get to the spot that we are now, which is a place of vibrant creativity."

After cutting Navarro loose -- "He didn't quit, we didn't fire him, it just kind of went that way," says Flea -- the group started rehearsing with Frusciante.

"We got in my garage and started playing, and it just felt really natural," says Flea. "Really good, and really un-forced and uncontrived. It became fun again."

That was important to Flea, because for a long time, it seemed as if the fun had left the band. "It became less about, `Let's get together and play because this is really fun and creatively exciting,' " he says, "and more about, `Well, let's do what we have to do to keep this juggernaut going.'

"Now John has been in the band now for [11] months or something. We finished a good record, and everything is really, really good for us. We're really, really excited, and it's a happy time. I would say this is one of the best chapters in the band's history."

Even potential disasters seemed to turn out right. For instance, when the band was scheduled to play the Tibetan Freedom Concert in Washington last summer, lightning struck the stadium, stopping the show and seriously injuring an audience member.

"It was really freaky," says Frusciante. "Crazy. Everybody was losing their minds."

"It was a massive trauma on a few different levels," agrees Kiedis. "Like why, during a time when so much energy was coming together for such a positive purpose, why would a supposed act of God strike during a time like that? That was kind of one question that was floating through the air."

In the end, though, things worked out for all concerned. "That girl who got struck right in the head with the bolt of lightning ended up being OK," says Kiedis. "She was badly burned and kind of disoriented for a while, but she pulled through, and I think she pulled through having a new direction in life herself. Because she decided to donate her time and energy to helping other people who've been burned. So it kind of set a new course for her, in a way.

"And everyone who really wanted to play got to play," he adds. "Pearl Jam ended up being very gracious by giving us the second half of their set time. Because we got cut from the bill. ... But in the end, Pearl Jam was, like, `Ah, we'd rather give up some of our time, so they could play.' So it worked out."

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