Red Hot Chili Peppers: Beasties Tribute Bar Jam

Photos by Dan Harpaz

Last Friday, herds of Red Hot Chili Peppers fans flooded the arteries of the New Jersey Devils’ arena.  The unmistakable beat of The Beastie Boys blared through the stadium, evoking bittersweet emotions in light of Beasties member Adam Yauch’s untimely death.  I wondered, would the passing of Yauch, known by the moniker MCA, overshadow the performance or fuel it?  Defying naysayers, Anthony Kiedis stormed the stage, donning a green shirt with “MCA” sharpied across the front, and sang disco-meets-Sabbath opener “Monarchy of Roses.” Next, Bassist Flea announced the show was dedicated to Adam Yauch, and then launched into the 1999 hit “Around the World,” which revealed the band’s unique ability to resolve playful, staccato funk verses with soulful sing-along sections.

Opening band Sleigh Bells gave a shout out to MCA, but let the headliners craft a last-minute tribute show including interlude jams to Beasties’ “Gratitude” and “So WhatCha Want,” during which guitarist Josh Klinghoffer toggled between organ- and guitar-playing. After crooning to “Otherside,” Anthony told the full-capacity audience of 18,000, “[Yauch’s death] really puts everything in perspective.  We lost a good man today.  Adam was for real.”

The Chili Peppers then continued their shtick, gyrating, wailing, and occasionally bantering on stage.  ”You know who’s from New Jersey?” Flea asked Anthony. “Stevie Wonder’s not, but he had orgies together with George Clinton in New Jersey,” Flea continued, stomping on a wah-wah pedal and slapping the bass line from Stevie cover “Higher Ground.” Josh Klinghoffer shone during “Under the Bridge,” kneeling like a yogi as he soloed during the intro, and then sprinting to the microphone to belt out, “Under the bridge downtown.”  It was one of two songs to include only the four core members sans touring percussionist Mauro Refosco.  The other tune, “Strip my Mind,” showcased both Josh’s powerful chord playing and his interpretation of former member John Frusciante’s entrancing, tottering guitar-solo style.

New Jersey fans present for day one of two Chili Peppers shows at Prudential Center this weekend enjoyed a special treat during the encore.  After reentering the stage walking on his hands, Flea welcomed Mauro’s fellow bandmate, Jorge Continentino, from the NY-based Brazilian dance band Forro in the Dark.  Continentino delivered soulful, reedy baritone sax solos during “Did I Let You Know.” After the Chili Peppers closed out with a crowd-jumper performance of classic “Give it Away,” audience members filed out of the stadium corridors chanting, “You gotta fight for your right to party” as the Beastie Boys anthem backed them up.

Considering the band’s on-stage athletics, casual fans might never have guessed the Chili Peppers, excepting Josh, are actually pushing fifty.  “This is the first time Flea and I haven’t been sick,” explained Josh once the band accepted Jorge’s invitation to take the show on the road.  I can’t imagine what a sick Chili Pepper might do while unsupervised.  But a convalescent one has the energy level of a Stanley Cup contender.  Only an hour after the sold out stadium show, I hopped into a van with Jorge and drove to an early-morning Forro in the Dark gig at divey lower Manhattan club Nublu, where Flea, Josh, and Mauro showed up for an intimate jam session in front of a sweaty crowd of 30.  I remember a small, blue-haired man head-bobbing and dancing his way into the club, beer in hand.  When a head perked up and swiveled, Flea leaned in close, exposing the famed gap-toothed smile to an iPhone camera.

Forro in the Dark, which included Mauro on the zabumba drum, had already started playing its country-funk infused brand of Brazilian dance music when Flea took a spot next to me in the crowd and danced in his usual aggressive, Flea-like style.  Once the band invited Flea and Josh to jam, the funk factor turned up to “11,” and exhilarated bar-goers crowded the 8” high stage with dropped jaws and iPhones set to “record.” Flea shot animalistic looks at band members, who locked in, received his signals, and laughed together hysterically as the improvised set transformed and intensified.  The band’s guitarist Guilherme Monteiro kneeled alongside Josh, and I got to observe the familiar yoga stance up close and personal. Though Forro in the Dark play regularly at Nublu late every Wednesday night, the band’s energy and the audience’s star-struck reaction told me this was no normal forró show.  When I asked Guilherme if the band was used to jamming with celebrity artists, he laughed, explaining, “Of course, we are badasses!” Though the band has credited big name collaborators and tour partners such as David Byrne (Talking Heads), Smokey Hormel (Johnny Cash, Beck), and Gogol Bordello, Jorge still sounded giddy when he asked, “Can you send me pictures of me jamming with Flea?” I said goodbye to Flea, who despite no visible signs of weariness, admitted, “I’m pretty tired, so I’m going to take a cab back.” By the time 4am struck, I’d also caught a ride home.  As for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, entertaining 18,000 concertgoers was just another night on the job.

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