Monday, June 8, 2015

Live: Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1986

Flea, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lee's Palace, Toronto, Dec. 3, 1986

I HAVE OFTEN WONDERED IF THE EMBRACE OF FUNK BY PUNK BANDS in the '80s was as much a matter of demographic survival as a mere musical trend. By the time third generation punk rock turned into hardcore and began policing itself with movements like Straight Edge, the sarcastic rejection of sex as lyrical subject, marketing tool and a stage persona by first wave punk bands (John Lydon: "Love is 2 minutes and 52 seconds of squelching noises.") had turned into a dour, anhedonic sausage party in the scene dominated by Minor Threat and Maximum Rocknroll magazine.

Rediscovering funk - awkwardly at first with bands like the Gang of Four, the Pop Group, the Bush Tetras, more joyously with the Big Boys, the Minutemen and the Chili Peppers - gave all those self-consciously intense boys and the girls lingering at the fringes an excuse to turn a mosh pit back into a dance floor again. So we have the Red Hot Chili Peppers to thank for letting all those college rock fans find their ass and figure out what to do with it.

If nothing else, it probably put them in a frame of mind that led to breeding, and guaranteed that a further generation would be born to parents who would forever roll their eyes at whatever "noise" their precious offspring brought home and mutter to each other that Generic by Flipper was still way more radical.

I shot the Red Hot Chili Peppers the first time they passed through Toronto, after they'd already released two records, and a year and a half after I'd bought my first camera. I would never have imagined that they'd still be a going concern thirty years later.

Antony Kiedis, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lee's Palace, Toronto, Dec. 3, 1986
Hillel Slovak, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lee's Palace, Toronto, Dec. 3, 1986

While I barely knew how to use my camera for this Nerve assignment, I was still ambitious enough that I was using "flash and burn" to try to get some impression of the energy and movement of a gig on film. I don't know where I first saw examples of the technique, but it was embraced by people documenting music scenes all over the place, from Glen Friedman in Los Angeles to Charles Peterson in Seattle.

"I wanted people to experience what it was like being there; the sweat, the noise, being pushed against each other," as Charles Peterson recalled. There was nothing new about the look of letting ambient light burn onto the film after the flash caught a bit of action, but in dimly lit, overheated clubs it was both appropriate and forgiving, filling in black space with streaks and tails of light. If I couldn't be sure that I could produce a sharp, well-framed concert photo, at least I knew a way I could leave the gig with photos that hinted at the rude energy of the bands.

Flea. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lee's Palace, Toronto, Dec. 3, 1986

I shot a single roll from the front of the stage, and in the video of the show shot that night, you can catch a shadowy glimpse of me with my camera off to the left, just in front of Flea. Unfortunately I'd run out of film and retreated to the bar and my friends by the time the band came out for an encore with tube socks on their junk - a trademark bit of stage business that I should have anticipated.

Not great photos by any means; I was still a novice with my equipment and timid about getting a good place between the band and the crowd. The framing is rudimentary, and the negatives thick and kludgy - I had a lot to learn about both composition and developing. It is, however, an OK document of the first, "classic" lineup of the Chili Peppers. Guitarist Hillel Slovak would be dead of an overdose a year and a half later.


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