LOS ANGELESThe Red Hot Chili Peppers make no secret that they've seen drug abuse up close, but the chance to raise money to fight such abuse wasn't the only reason they played a charity concert Friday night that partially benefited the Musicians Assistance Program.
Hitting just as close to home for the funk-rock band's bassist, Flea, was the concert's other beneficiary, the Hereditary Disease Foundation, which aims to cure genetic illnesses, including the nervous-system disorder Huntington's disease.
"I have a friend very close to me who has been diagnosed with the Huntington's-disease gene," Flea (born Michael Balzary) said before the Chili Peppers' headlining set at a sold-out Hollywood Palladium show that also featured Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder, former Jane's Addiction and Porno for Pyros frontman Perry Farrell (born Perry Bernstein) and ex-Minutemen bassist Mike Watt.
"I just want to play for him and to help find a cure," Flea said.
The Chili Peppers capped the concert with a typically high-energy performance that mixed such past hits as "Give It Away" and "Under the Bridge," with songs from their new Californication, including the hit "Scar Tissue" (RealAudio excerpt) and the title track (RealAudio excerpt). The set culminated with a knock-down rendition of "The Power of Equality" that seemed to leave the crowdwhich included members of No Doubt and 311 as well as actresses Darryl Hannah and Patricia Arquettesated.
"That was so fun," sweat-drenched fan David Knight, 22, said. "Watching a show like that is the biggest f---ing high you can get."
Before the Peppers took the stage, Farrell played a DJ set from a turntable booth at the back of the venue. Dressed in a retro white jacket and a black cap, he spun records, danced and occasionally shouted into the microphone as the crowd got down and cheered through his funky half-hour set.
Vedder joined Watt and his Black Gang Crew for a version of "Against the '70s," from Watt's 1995 album Ball-Hog or Tugboat?, and later played a set of cover tunes including Talking Heads' "Love/Building on Fire," the Police's "Driven to Tears" and Dead Moon's "Running Out of Time."
The bleached-blond rocker began with a solo rendition of "Last Kiss" (RealAudio excerpt), the J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers song from 1964 that has become a major hit for Pearl Jam. Bassist Jon Merithew and drummer Brad Balsley of the Olympia, Wash., band C Average joined him for the remainder of the set; the same pair accompanied Vedder for a similar set of covers at the Tibetan Freedom Concert in East Troy, Wis., earlier this month.
Vedder spoke to the crowd frequently between songs. He said he'd spent his plane ride to Los Angeles thinking up phrases with the initials "L.A." "I started thinking about your town," he said as he launched into a litany of "L.A." phrases: "little air," "lap-dance a--hole," "late always," "luxury apartment," "lip-sync arena," "lame addiction."
He closed by reflecting on the anger that comes with being close to someone battling drug addiction. "It kills you to see it," he said.
While Vedder expressed anger, Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante appeared to express gratitude when he ended the band's main set with a statement that seemed to nod to the Musician Assistance Program's cause. "It's great to be alive," the guitarist proclaimed.
Frusciante, who played in the Peppers from 1988 to 1992 and rejoined the group last year, has admitted he spent his time away from the band immersed in heroin addiction. The group, whose "Scar Tissue" finds singer Anthony Kiedis confronting his own struggle to rid his life of drugs, lost original guitarist Hillel Slovak to a heroin overdose in 1988.
The recovery of artists such as Frusciante is the reason that Musicians Assistance Program founder Buddy Arnold, a jazz musician who said he abused drugs for 31 years, has dedicated himself to helping musicians get clean. Backstage, Arnold spoke of seeing Frusciante in the depths of his heroin abuse and he reveled in the guitarist's triumph over his addiction.
"Anthony [Kiedis] would tell me John was clean, and I said, 'I don't believe it,' " said the 72-year-old Arnold, who tried to help Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain days before he committed suicide in 1994. "Then he'd say he was dressing well, and I'd say, 'I really don't believe that.' "
"He's got a year clean now," Arnold said of Frusciante. "I'm so proud."
The event was spearheaded by singer Bob Forrest of the '80s indie-rock band Thelonious Monster. Forrest opened the show with his new band, the Bicycle Thief.