On what would otherwise be just another summer night in Los Angeles—July 31, 2022, specifically—the Red Hot Chili Peppers played a sold-out show at So-Fi Stadium in Inglewood, with support by two acclaimed opening acts: Beck, another Angeleno who made it big, and Thundercat—the lauded singer and bassist, Stephen Bruner. The Chili Peppers—that is, vocalist Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, drummer Chad Smith and guitarist John Frusciante, who range from 52-60 years old—put on a spectacular show that radiated purpose, boundless energy, and true musical mastery—the kind that only comes from the endless effort of a 39-year career, followed by acceptance of one’s own greatness. I suppose the same could be said for Beck, another master of weirdo rock, another kid who, like Kiedis, had a unique L.A. upbringing. Yeah, they were both great; surprise, surprise. But why the hell was that unsurprising fact so moving?
I flew into L.A. at 5:20 a.m. on the morning of the show for the concert; I wasn’t able to sleep more than an hour the night before. I have a lot of trouble sleeping these days. My mind fills all the closets with murderers, the crawl spaces with demons, and the windowpanes with voyeurs. Of course, the things I’m really afraid of are the things in myself that become so stark in the silence before sleep.
About a year ago I left Los Angeles—specifically Los Feliz, specifically near the Gelsons on Hyperion—for Chicago. I put all of my belongings in a U-Haul cube, paid $2,000, or whatever insane amount it was, and left for “home.” I grew up just outside of the city in Skokie, Illinois. So I was back. I moved into a simple one-bedroom in Evanston, just next door to Skokie and Chicago and along Lake Michigan. Evanston is lovely in the summer, and I would take a walk along the lake every single day. I was feeling extremely isolated, and more than a little paranoid, so nice weather wasn’t the panacea it should have been. Can you blame me? Has anything felt normal, hopeful, or forward-moving in the past three years?
The soundtrack for my walks became densely populated by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I must have listened to “Dark Necessities” a thousand times. You don’t know my mind/you don’t know my kind/dark necessities are part of my design. Kiedis knows what it’s like to toss and turn, staring at the demons over the bed.
I listened to their earlier albums, too— digging into the delights of Freaky Styley and Mother’s Milk. I love funk (e.g. Rufus, Parliament, Rick James), but being the Millennial that I am, I did not understand the depths to which the RHCP got funky in the late 80s. They funked as hard as anyone. I took time to actually listen to the poetry of 1999’s Californication and 2002’s By The Way, which I had always just enjoyed casually. I let Kiedis’s melancholy soothe mine. In short, I didn’t become a serious Chilis lover until after I left Los Angeles.
So when it was announced that the band was going to be performing a hometown show, with a new album in tow, playing SoFi on July 31, I wanted to come home with them. John Frusciante was back in the band after a decade and I wanted to see what would happen when Los Angeles’ favorite, formerly debauched sons came home after three years of dystopian hell had overtaken the world.
Have you ever been away from home for a year? The first day back is filled with all the push and pull and stomach-turning emotion of a reunion with the one that got away. I was exhausted and exhilarated to be back in Los Angeles. To feel the kiss of the dry heat at Burbank. To watch self-satisfied yuppies stuff their faces at Alcove on Hillhurst. To stuff mine.
On my way to the concert, I listened to a podcast of Frusciante, Kiedis, and producer Rick Rubin discussing the new album. I’m not sure what I learned other than that I think—haters be damned—these men are artists. In the proper sense. In the background, my very Koreatown Dad-Uber driver listened to some gorgeous violin piece on 91.5 FM. On the 101, we came up on this sexy silver Mustang—I was hoping for a Christie Brinkley moment—but the driver more closely approximated some auto mechanic cousin of Danny Trejo. Cars tell you everything in Los Angeles, cars tell you nothing in Los Angeles.
I arrived across the street from SoFi Stadium, the behemoth of Inglewood, the colossus of “progress,” and started walking with the crowd. Behind me, a group of Latino die-hard Chilis fans was chatting with a dude trying to sell them some overpriced merchandise. They laughed together about “the hustle” and the merch seller made some comment about how weed makes everything better. One of the fans said that she prefers wine. I chimed in that the two can work together if you let them. I tried to strike up a conversation with the group about what the band means to them, and if this concert has any special significance. Mostly, they said, they were just excited to get back to seeing shows after the COVID nightmare.
A little closer to the stadium, I saw the actor Joshua Jackson and proceeded to make a fool of myself—a not uncommon L.A. tradition as we walk among celebrities. I casually waited as he greeted his wife (the elegant actress Jodie Turner-Smith) and approached to let him know I loved him in Dr. Death. Did he have anything to say about the Chilis? Only that it was his 10th time seeing them live, and the first time ever in Los Angeles; that was exciting for him, he told me. As I awkwardly walked backward in an attempt to keep my distance from the very kind celebrity before me, I almost ran into a pole. I then said, “Almost ran into a pole!” and ran away.
Inside, buzzing from my celebrity encounter, with anticipation and from having a ticket to the field level, I walked down the endless ramp. Lo and behold, one of my great friends and his girlfriend were waiting to go into the show. Of the tens of thousands there, I saw my old buddy, who, like me, was returning to Los Angeles from a Chicago sojourn. We spoke through most of Beck’s set but eventually, the pull of the auteur on the stage in his beige suit was too much to ignore. He played a lot of crowd-pleasers, and the stadium was singing along with gusto, na na na na na na nah, especially the moms who were once the Sunset Strip hotties of the 90s. Beck’s set got everyone revved up. I kind of want to be Beck, actually. Is he just messing with us? Will we ever know?
After a quick break to the port-a-potty carnival set up for the people who paid the most for their tickets on the field level—don’t you love the subtle ways the universe mocks the elite?—it was time for the very punctual Peppers.
Flea and Smith got things started with an absolutely epic jam session—in fact, some of the most transcendent moments of the performance were these jams. Flea, Frusciante, and Smith have incredible musical chemistry, and it was on full display. (Rick Rubin mentions this in that podcast episode—that watching the Chilis is sometimes akin to watching great jazz. They play in such subconscious unity and it’s thrilling to watch.) Then Kiedis came out on stage and they launched into “Can’t Stop.” Everyone lost it. The magic had begun.
Of course, Kiedis was quick to remove his shirt. He and Flea played the show shirtless, as is their wont (Flea had also spray painted his head in wild pink and yellow neon…of course). For 59-year-olds, they both look pretty great, though, like Tom Cruise, their eternal embrace of youthful masculinity makes one contemplative. But not too contemplative—‚Kiedis and Flea rocking out shirtless or with their dicks in a sock isn’t something to scoff at with East Coast propriety or Pacific Northwest reserve; after all, it’s pure unadulterated pornified L.A. magic, which the rest of the country may decry while secretly wanting to be baptized in it.
This, of course, is the point. A certain kind of magic. Because you already know they rocked our socks off. There were Frusciante solos that gave Eddie Van Halen a run for his money. There were jams worthy of any blues bar in Chicago, or any afternoon session at Muscle Shoals. There were a couple of moments that dragged—but not many. I wish there had been more banter; I wish I’d taken a stronger weed gummy and totally lost myself; I wish I could have a cup of tea with Kiedis and talk about dating in Los Angeles. But they rocked our socks off.
Yes, us, the collective of hot young ladies off to my right, possibly celebrating a birthday; the 30-something woman a few rows behind me who knew every lyric to every song—even the new ones; the teenagers a few rows ahead of me who were head banging in the aisle with such fervor, you’d almost believed punk might be back; the old punks pointing this out to their 90s Sunset Strip wives; the nerds wearing earplugs. The Chicanos, the Jews, the Salvadorans, the WASPs, the Koreans, the Inland Empire plumbers, and the rest. They rocked our f—ing socks off. Whoever L.A. is, for surely all of L.A. was there.
I kept looking around, up into the stadium, searching for faces to search. I wanted to feel what I’d been missing all year in Evanston. I wanted to feel like I was a part of something, that I understood something which these tens of thousands understood, too, something we can’t quite explain but that we know, instinctively, this band can convey. That we were all coming together in love to celebrate four aging dudes whose presence and effort meant something to us. That this place still means something. Maybe I should move back. That I am not, before bed with the demons, alone.
While we chanted and cheered for an encore, the camera found someone holding up a Dodgers hat. The camera operator zoomed in for an extreme close-up. The shot, like an homage to an 80s music video, showed only the hat and a solitary finger pointing at the logo over and over again, in perfect rhythm. The crowd loved it. I loved it. And then, as if on cue, the Chilis returned for “Under The Bridge.” Like many times before, I felt deeply moved by this now 31-year-old song, which predicted, decades in advance, my own dark, L.A. nights of the soul. I drive on her streets/cause she’s my companion/I walk in her hills cause/she knows who I am…
It was a really beautiful moment, seeing multiple generations of Angelenos singing along to a song that hasn’t lost an ounce of relevance in three decades. Of how many moments in how many concerts can that be said? Out of curiosity, I typed Red Hot Chili Peppers into Twitter late Sunday after the show. As I scrolled through, I started seeing tweet after tweet which echoed my own experience:
Was this concert a baptism, a confirmation, or a wedding? What does it mean to share something with a group of people who understand something that can’t be explained to an outsider? What does it mean to share anything in this new world of months-long stay-at-home orders and obscured faces and fear and rancor and helplessness?
It means a great deal. As I suspected, this concert meant a lot to the people who were there, and the ones who weren’t in Inglewood that night. To the people of Los Angeles, this bizarre, beautiful, sometimes sad, and lonely group of groupies at the edge of Western civilization, I think it meant a great deal. Believe it or not, these punks, these freaky, funky punks, still mean something—sometimes profoundly. Thirty-nine years in, the Red Hot Chili Peppers can still make you feel that Los Angeles is some kind of priestess and each of us is some kind of priest.
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