So I woke up this morning to find the internet humming with low-level outrage at the fact that Thom Yorke has recruited famous musician Michael Peter Balzary – for some reason known as Flea – to his cause, as bassist for a couple of shows in LA.
The source of said outrage is simple enough: fear. Fear that Yorke’s glitchy venom will become contaminated by the dead-eyed horror that is the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a once fun party band now degenerated into self-regarding musos. With his rubbish face, slap-bass ‘antics’ and – let’s be honest – the fact the rest of the band are so utterly tedious that it’s hard to really get angry with them, it’s no wonder that Flea is kind of the scapegoat for all that is ill with the yoga-loving stadium bores. After all, you can’t really imagine anybody throwing a hissy fit if Yorke recruited Chad Smith to his cause. Mostly because hardly anybody knows or cares who he is (RHCP drummer, FYI).
Well Freakscene can stand for this Flea-swatting no longer. Sure, there is no getting away from the fact that he IS in the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But frankly the man has always kept some mighty impressive company, both mainstream and underground, and we’re not just talking about the fact he was in 'The Big Lebowski'. Though that is pretty cool.
Nope, Flea has, in his lifetime, collaborated with about a gazillion other musicians, some awful (hello, Alanis Morissette), some a bit Cali-royalty but infinitely better than the Chilis (Jane’s Addiction, Metallica) but the overwhelming majority have been way more left-field and interesting than the day job - Young MC, the Minutemen’s Mike Watt, Tricky, the Mars Volta; he even successfully auditioned for the role of bassist in John Lydon’s ultra-abrasive Public Image Limited before turning the role down (okay, it’s a moot point whether that was a particularly cool thing to do, but PiL were kind of on the way down by then).
In general he’s the only member of the band who seems to, y’know, give a shit about music, recently speaking out warmly and humbly in support of Warp artist Squarepusher’s Solo Electric Bass album, and having devoted what would seem to be a portion of near-enough every interview he’s ever given to pointing out the fact that Gang Of Four are way better than RHCP. Which is true.
Basically he is that annoyingly wacky guy from that awful stadium rock band, but he’s also the only one of them possessed of personality or soul, and while the fella’s undoubtedly been responsible for some drivel in his time, if he’s good enough for the above (and many more) then you can pretty much be rest assured that he’s not going to splatter 20 minutes of funk hell all over ‘Analyse’. He’s more one of us than one of them.
We leave you with this footage from this year’s Meltdown Festival, where the man himself joined a couple of artists who make Radiohead look like Blink-182 - punk poetess Patti Smith and inscrutable post-rockers A Silver Mount Zion - and singularly failed to fuck everything up. Here is him not ruining Smith’s incredible ‘Ghost Dance’.