Last month, we heard the premiere of Deerhoof’s breezy “Risk Free,” the A-side of the upcoming seven-inch record I thought We Were friends, along with the news that they’d be hoofing it across Europe with Red Hot Chili Peppers. Today, we’ve got updates on both fronts: Deerhoof have given us “Delight,” a playfully-tense B-side for an easygoing A-side, plus an entry from an RHCP tour diary titled “Day One,” written by Deerhoof’s always-entertaining drummer Greg Saunier. Notably, Saunier says he’d never heard a Chili Peppers song before embarking on tour with Anthony Kiedis and company. Check out “Delight,” Saunier’s tour diary, and some photos from the road below.
There’s a knock on our dressing room door. Two guys we’ve never met walk in. They are Flea and Josh. Flea is holding a bass and only stops practicing his 16th-note runs to give us a hug. Conversation turns very silly very quickly (Flea playing and talking at the same time) and we know we are touring with the right band.
I thought touring arenas was going to be awesome because it meant I’d be free to play louder. (Every drummer is familiar with the singer’s stink-eye when we cover them up.) What I didn’t realize was that playing arenas also amplifies your every mistake approximately 20,000X. I don’t really mean wrong notes. I mean hesitations, indecision, inauthentic gestures. One false move and 20,000 people start checking their phones. Every day is school in doing everything big and decisive. And in playing louder. Yesterday I broke my rented bass drum pedal in half.
I had never heard any songs by Red Hot Chili Peppers. Once they invited us to open this three-week tour, I carefully avoided listening to them for the next two months till the tour started, so I could get the virgin experience live. I had no expectations. Once I got my first look at the extent of the production – the computerized LED candles, the moving screens, the gargantuan PA, the 17 trucks, the nearly 100-person crew, the 12 spotlight operators who each follow one band member through the whole show, the guy whose job it is to run onstage and grab Flea’s or Anthony’s shirt should they decide to take it off – I thought “at least this will be spectacular.”
But when they got onstage the first night and proceeded to play a free improvisation to start the show in front of 20,000 screaming Munich fans, I realized that for all the tech, Red Hot Chili Peppers is all about people power. It’s one thing to be a practiced, scripted arena band doing everything big and decisive while hitting all your marks the same every night. Quite another to do it big and decisive and be spontaneous, real human beings onstage at the same time. That opening jam was no anomaly. While I admit that I didn’t recognize any of their songs that first night — my “virgin experience” mission was successful — even I could tell that between every song on their setlist, they’d make up another untitled song, right on the spot. No discussion of what key or tempo it might be in, just go. Anthony sometimes even made up lyrics on the spot. These guys trusted their own ears and each other so deeply that they were repeatedly putting themselves at high musical risk.
From the side of the stage, I was impressed at the intense concentration of these four musicians, three in their mid-50s. But later when I moved out into the arena and saw it straight-on, it was a miracle. Not just the arena singalongs, but even the improvs were tossed off with such huge physicality and celebratory pizzazz that they looked like a bunch of wacky kids that somehow also knew exactly what they were doing. Joyous energy buzzed through the crowd.
After Day One, tour continued, setlists shifted, Trump was elected, and one might be forgiven for questioning why us Americans would want to strut and twirl around the stage playing loud rock and roll for Europeans just as aware of America’s 2016 parade of idiocy as we were. But as Salmon Rushdie says, the enemy of fanaticism is pleasure. The best way to fight it is to dance madly. RHCP music is everything 2016 US politics is not: clever, imaginative, fearless, victimless, funny, nourishing and life-affirming. They see a 20,000-person crowd as a moral responsibility to spread love. So here we are halfway through the tour and we know once again that we are touring with the right band.
I thought We Were friends is out 11/18 via Famous Class on standard black vinyl or green with blue marbled vinyl. Pre-order it here.