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A new beginning for the Chili Peppers

After a rough patch, the veteran L.A. band is back with a new guitarist and a new album due out this month.

August 07, 2011|By Steve Appleford, Special to the Los Angeles Times

"We had been working hard and we were physically and emotionally chipped away," says Kiedis. "I stayed out on tour with broken bones in my feet from jumping off the bass drum — which is kind of agonizing, and it led to me being in a bad state of mind. John had become disenchanted with being in a touring rock band, which is completely understandable. He's a driven person in the world of music and sound, and he wanted to change gears."

Ever since, Frusciante has followed an experimental path, releasing a concept album, "The Empyrean," in 2009, and exploring other alliances, including one with the electronic trio Speed Dealer Moms. Last year, he appeared on "Sepulcros de Miel" as part of the Omar Rodríguez-López Quartet, continuing his partnership with the Mars Volta guitarist.

The hiatus lasted more than three years. Kiedis became a father and learned to surf. Flea explored a series of side projects, recording or touring with Thom Yorke, Damon Albarn and Patti Smith, while running his nonprofit school, the Silverlake Conservatory of Music. Drummer Chad Smith, 49, formed Chickenfoot (with Sammy Hagar, Joe Satriani and Michael Anthony) and recorded a children's album with Dick Van Dyke.

Frusciante's departure wasn't publicly known, and it was hardly the band's first season of turmoil. The original Chili Peppers quartet of friends from Fairfax High was shattered by the 1988 heroin overdose of guitarist Hillel Slovak and the grief-stricken exit of drummer Jack Irons. Those next years saw a series of comings and goings, including one player who threatened to burn down Kiedis' house, and an uneasy period with Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro. All of it swirled around the creative core of Flea and Kiedis, who ultimately found their greatest, most lasting successes with Frusciante and Smith.

After Frusciante quit the first time in 1992, and returned almost six years later, Flea was certain he would never want to continue the band without him. "Then he left, and a few months went by and I really missed it," says Flea.

The band now sought a new way forward. Years earlier, Kiedis had first heard of Klinghoffer during a visit to a friend, singer Bob Forrest, who raved about the guitarist in his new band, the Bicycle Thief. Kiedis liked what he heard. "Bob has always had a very keen sensibility about finding extremely talented and down-to-earth people who just want to get to a kitchen and write a song," says Kiedis.

The Chili Peppers took the Bicycle Thief on tour in 2000, and Klinghoffer later joined them as backup guitarist and keyboardist, and appeared on several Frusciante solo recordings. "I've always been attracted to the idea of a tight-knit unit, a band of family, a brotherhood," says Klinghoffer, 31, who grew up in the San Fernando Valley. "Since my earliest memory, they always seemed like a band with a lot of love for each other."

Kiedis compares the recruiting of Klinghoffer to the "concept of eating local produce. . . . No trucking, no shipping, no pesticides. Just your own friend from the neighborhood who happens to be a person you really want to play music with." By 2009, Klinghoffer was a Chili Pepper.

The new lineup begins a major U.S. tour in early 2012, but locals can find them Aug. 22 at the intimate Roxy Theatre (taped by Fuse TV for broadcast on the album's release date) and at an Aug. 24 benefit at Club Nokia for the Silverlake Conservatory.

"It's never going to be too perfect, thank God," says Kiedis. "We're just four guys who get together and write and listen to each other. I get excited about things that Josh brings into the rehearsal, and I can tell it's coming from a place that I can relate to. It's not coming from a phony place."

Video time

The sweltering warehouse in downtown Los Angeles looks like a party, with a young crowd in short skirts, tights, bare midriffs and fishnets. Sitting on a couch is a woman in pigtails with a goat, as a camera crew captures the moment for a music video of "The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie."

Directing is the 21-year-old rapper Kreayshawn, whose streetwise video for her "Gucci Gucci" is a YouTube sensation of the moment. As her crew huddles around the video monitors, the Chili Peppers climb to the stage ready to perform to the "Maggie" album track. By the second take, the band's energy level rises with the heat: Kiedis does a one-armed handstand, and Flea spits water on his chest.

This is Klinghoffer's very first music video, and the scene reminds him of another one from the '90s, when a different band rocked extra-hard for a roiling crowd of overamped kids. He plucks the melody from Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on his guitar and shares a laugh with Kiedis. "That's what it feels like," he says of these moments on camera.

In a few weeks, the band will shoot another video for the same song, with the group performing on a Venice rooftop. The setting changes nothing about the tune, which began as a lurking bassline Flea wrote in his kitchen before evolving into a pop song of brooding funk, glancing guitar, cowbell and a Kiedis rhyme that purrs: "Tugboat Sheila is into memorabilia/Who said three is a crowd?"

"Flea and I are childhood friends, and we have a weird spiritual bond," Kiedis says of their lifelong collaboration. "We have a brotherly relationship that comes with a lot of angst, but . . . we really love what we started and we never stopped loving it. There's been nothing in the way of enthusiasm that's diminished. I listened to our record yesterday, and I feel our new band with Josh is as good as we've ever been."

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