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Pop Music Review

Neil Young, Chili Peppers Show Survival Skills

March 03, 2001|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Defiant individualist Neil Young is a man whose music over the course of some35 years has proven ageless.

The wacky Red Hot Chili Peppers are a band that in 20 years has refused to grow up.

When they shared the bill at the Hollywood Palladium on Thursday, it was Dorian Gray versus Peter Pan.

But the very presence at an intimate facility of two acts that normally headline arenas was evidence of each's true maturity.

The show was a benefit for Gloria Scott, a longtime Hollywood addiction counselor whom several Peppers (and many others in and out of the rock world) credit for nothing less than saving their lives.

With her life now threatened by lung cancer, "A Night for Gloria" was a chance to pay her back, not just in money to help with expenses, but in recognition for work generally done anonymously.

With that lineup, plus a terrific, spirited set by the re-formed Thelonious Monster (whose singer Bob Forrest also credits Scott for his success fighting addiction) and between-set spinning by superstar English DJ Paul Oakenfold, it was anything but a somber affair.

Young, paying back the Peppers for their appearance at his annual Bridge School Benefit concert last October, was at his garage-rockiest. Working with backing band Crazy Horse after a few years touring with other musicians, Young powered through his edgiest material, from the opening "Sedan Delivery" and "Hey Hey My My" to the windstorm of feedback and noise that ended "Like a Hurricane." No one rocks like Neil Young rocks. And no one has done it with such commitment over such a long time.

*

That the Chili Peppers are still going full-bore after two decades is nearly as remarkable given (a) the serious addiction problems some members had to overcome, and (b) the cartoon-like nature of their music and persona.

In its headlining set Thursday, the band at first did little to counter critics' dismissals of its success as having more to do with shirtless punk antics than with artistry, with singer Anthony Kiedis careening spasmodically and bassist Flea mugging and spitting as he popped out staccato funk lines.

But midway through, more complex textures and emotions emerged, embodied most profoundly in the instinctive, understated, Hendrix-like beauty of John Frusciante's guitar. It was the musical manifestation of the heart that has made the Peppers community-minded leaders over the years, their support of such friends as Scott defining their legacy as much as anything else.

Arguably, the success story of the night was Thelonious Monster, which never had the music business support system provided by commercial success to keep it going through its drug problems and other crises.

Yet the band played a set of fiery and personal rockers as rich and enticing as you'll find, with earnest fervor given to Forrest's poetic, caustic songs.

This was true rock 'n' roll heart.

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