Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I'm With You

Yesterday I enjoyed the concert Red Hot Chili Peppers performed live for an audience worldwide. It was my third RHCP concert. This time, "live concert" meant in real-time but not in real-space: the concert was taking place in Germany while I was in a big cinema room in Tallinn, Estonia.

As usual, the concert was very short. I understand how physical a RHCP concert is for the those who watch it and, even more, for the ones who perform it. But, still, RHCP concerts are always so unsatisfactorily short. Except for the spontaneous jams, they seem so much programmed, following a sort of schedule.

The main news about the Red Hot Chili Peppers is their new guitar player, his articulation with the other band members, and how all that changes their music. So, how are the new Red Hot Chili Peppers?

Both during the concert and in the new cd, the sound of the guitar is much less prominent than in most or all their previous albums. By less prominent I really mean it acoustically: guitar's sound is less powerful relatively to all other musical instruments and voice. Also, there are no guitar solos - or guitar sequences deserving that name. On the other hand, there are now non-guitar solos: trumpet and piano. On top of all these changes, rhythm as been reinforced with a percussionist added to the contribution of drummer Chad Smith.

The result is, thus, a lot more emphasis on rhythm, with melody being provided almost exclusively by Kiedis' voice. The guitar is only there to complete the musical background and deliver some special effects, in a band where real and raw effects has always been the main focus.

In John Frusciante's era, the Red Hot Chili Peppers evolved from funk to funk-rock to "just rock". This brought them an immense popularity. It also brought them excellent music. Meanwhile, John Frusciante had perhaps become too important for the musical taste and feelings of the other bandmates. Frusciante sang, riffed and soloed, he seemed to have the decisive hand in choosing most of the musical landscapes, and the majority of songs were driven by him.

With Frusciante's leaving the quartet, it may be that the older Chili Peppers want back a bigger share of artistic control. That means more rhythm, funk, speed and less indulgence in soloing. It is in this light that one can understand the almost secondary role of the new guitar player and the introduction of a new percussionist.

Actually, during the concert, it seemed there was an excess of percussion. Chad Smith is more than an excellent drummer: why then the need for extra percussion? Maybe turning down the volume of Klinghoffer's guitar was not enough: in order to keep him from being a new Frusciante and move the sound of the Peppers again in the melodic rock direction, it was necessary not only to cut his power and forbid him from doing riffs and solos but also to bury his sound under extra percussion lines.

(This reminds me a little of the first album Metallica recorded with their then-new bass player and how that instrument became almost inaudible in that cd and afterwards).

Further, the few times Josh was freer to do "his thing", he sounded much like Frusciante, entangled in all that magic of pedals and guitar effects. Had been Josh allowed to do a real clean-guitar solo, I am pretty sure he would have sounded exactly like Frusciante. Maybe this is the reason - or the extra reason - for the shift in the Peppers sound: whether they are seeking the old pre-Frusciante funky style or a turn from the melody oriented music, there is no space for much similarity with John and that is why he had to be musically contained.

Klinghoffer was chosen, thus, not because he is alike John but even though that; what really mattered in picking him was his musical talent. I hope he will be given enough freedom to show that talent and let it develop.

Leaving aside internal changes and comparisons with previous albums, "I'm With You" has plenty of powerful rhythm. It delivers a continuous of energy along its fourteen songs, all of which attain the same level of high quality and ability to move one's body and soul. Dancing to it is a reinvigorating experience.


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