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Music

Revisiting Flea and John Frusciante’s live tribute to Joy Division

John Frusciante and Flea are two of the most accomplished musicians of the modern era. In their respective fields, the Red Hot Chili Peppers bandmates are hailed as geniuses and have droves of fans from all walks of life.

Flea is one of the most influential bass players of all time. A king of both the slap and the pop, it’s a testament to his work that you can instantly recognise his sound. Taking as many cues from punk rock as he does Bootsy Collins, whilst funky, Flea’s playing is carried by a raw edge that helps drive the Red Hot Chili Peppers machine along. 

Interestingly, he’s spoken at length over his career about the impact of gothic rock bands such as The Cure, Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees on the development of his sound, and it’s a style of music he identifies with much more than funk. 

Frusciante is a guitar-playing dynamo, highly versatile and well versed in a myriad of different musical genres, he’s managed to blow us away with his licks since he first joined Red Hot Chili Peppers in the late 1980s primarily because of the way he manages to fuse technical proficiency with feeling, bearing many similarities to the styles of Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young, but blending in a decidedly post-punk twist that takes its cues from John McGeoch of Magazine and Siouxsie and the Banshees and Bernard Sumner of Joy Division and New Order. 

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A lifelong fan of Joy Division, writing in Vinyl Writers, Frusciante once discussed how Joy Division’s iconic album Unknown Pleasures helped him through his darkest period and that it showed him what a piece of great art truly is. “I am not a person to regret things, but there’s nothing to sugar-coat: the phase of my life that I went through in the mid-90s after leaving the Red Hot Chili Peppers shouldn’t be an inspiration for anyone,” wrote Frusciante about his years of heroin addiction. 

During this period, which is ostensibly the lowest of his life, Frusciante also stopped playing the guitar or, as he put it, “music was only of passive importance to me as a listener. Back then, I played the music of two bands again and again, and to this day they are the only real constant in my musical life: Depeche Mode and Joy Division.”

Even though the inherent darkness of Unknown Pleasures suits such a bleak time, Frusciante explained that his love for the record ran much deeper than that. “Not so much because their dark music suited sinister phase so well, but because of their sense for simplicity. Unknown Pleasures is no virtuoso album. Bernard Sumner for sure was no Hendrix or Zappa on the guitar, also not later on with New Order.”

He continued: “Unknown Pleasures creates an enormous impact with the smallest means, the album benefits from its shortcomings. This is a true art and a priceless perspective: the result can be so much bigger than the stake.”

It is no surprise, then, that both Flea and John Frusciante once teamed up to show their shared love for Joy Division by playing a selection of the band’s classic tracks from the 1981 compilation, Still. They enlisted former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer on drums to deliver a stellar live performance, where all three took a trip down memory lane to their teenage years. 

Taking place on October 10th, 2000, at Spaceland in Los Angeles, during the performance, we hear the Flea and Frusciante play their instruments in ways that are not typical of Red Hot Chili Peppers. As he storms through his hero Bernard Sumner’s riffs, Frusciante’s guitar has a real crunch that you do not get in much of his work with the Chili’s or various other projects. He also takes on the vocal duties, and although it’s not his strongest point, Frusciante channels his inner Ian Curtis well.

As for Flea, his performance is perhaps the most surprising. He retains the classic clank of his bass tone, but to hear him play Peter Hook’s simple and atmospheric basslines and there a total absence of slapping and popping seems abnormal. However, these are Joy Division songs, and to employ such techniques would be the antithesis of the cold minimalism that made the band so consequential. 

The setlist was composed as such: ‘Exercise One (aborted) / Exercise One’, ‘Disorder’, ‘Twenty Four Hours’, ‘Failures’, ‘Shadowplay’, ‘Wilderness’, ‘Warsaw’, ‘She’s Lost Control’, ‘New Dawn Fades’, ‘Colony’ and ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. 

Running for just under 45 minutes, the performance is incredible, and it’s refreshing to hear the band drop the unrelenting funk of Red Hot Chili Peppers and deliver something completely different.

Listen to the complete set below.

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