We don't need to go into detail to explain how much COVID-19 messed everything up: you already know.
On top of just about every other festival on the planet, the outbreak also put an end to what was perhaps one of the most highly anticipated comebacks of all time with John Frusciante’s return to the Red Hot Chili Peppers – a reunion that would have occurred just last weekend at Hangout Festival in Alabama.
While we wait for the day that John gets to officially return to stage with Flea, Chad and Anthony, we’re revisiting some of our favourite onstage moments from Frusciante to deep dive into his dynamic playing style and dissect his ten best live guitar solos with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
10. ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’ – Off The Map (2000)
Filmed at the height of their post-Californication domination, Off The Map is a wonderful documentation of a live band in their prime. For starters, everyone (bar Chad) is repping a mohawk, and for OG Chili Peppers fans, it’s considered a classic due to the amount of older tracks the band perform on the DVD such as ‘Sir Psycho Sexy’ and ‘Fire’. There’s also a quick interlude jam on a Funkadelic classic is also counted among many fans as a Frusciante highlight for his nifty lead work – but that’s beside the point.
If there’s one massive Frusciante moment on Off The Map, it’s got to be his solo on ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’, the grossly underrated title track of the band’s gamechanging 1991 effort. For a hefty two and a half minutes, John totally lets loose with his trademark Ibanez WH10 wah and Fender Stratocaster, displaying more chops than a butcher’s shop as he carves up and down the fretboard for a freaked-out funk fest. Anyone got a towel?
9. ‘Outro Jam (featuring Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Michael Rother)’ – Hamburg, Germany (2003)
This one’s a bit of an obscurity, and the audio quality is absolutely awful, but it’s more than certainly deserving of its place on the list. For a finale of epic proportions, the Chili Peppers are joined by The Mars Volta’s guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, who were touring with RHCP at the time, as well as highly influential Neu! guitarist Michael Rother.
What follows is a forty minute masterclass in counterpoint and spontaneity, with all guitarists kneeling together in a circle and trading phrasings in spectacular fashion. John’s dynamic playing and subtle nuances in this jam are a prime example of how inspired he was to play in this era, and to keep such a momentum for 40 minutes definitely takes effort.
8. ‘If You Have To Ask’ – Sao Paulo, Brazil (1999)
Filmed just over a year after Frusciante kicked his heroin habit and rejoined the Chili Peppers, this performance of the band’s 1991 funk-rock classic ‘If You Have To Ask’ is yet another classic example of John’s Californication-era soloing style.
Kicking off with a searing slur lick, you can actually see John snap a string seconds into this video, yet the guitarist holds keeps his resolve and adapts his soloing to compensate for the lack of a high E string. He ends the solo on a bang and then jams on The Meters with Flea as if nothing ever happened – such a pro effort.
7. ‘Californication’ – Slane Castle, Ireland (2003)
The Chili Peppers have always made a habit of kicking off ‘Californication’ with a winding instrumental jam, and even after John’s departure in 2010, it became a key part of their live show. While there’s plenty of killer examples with both John and Josh Klinghoffer out there, the band’s performance at Slane Castle is easily the best that’s been captured on tape, and really goes the distance to prove the incomparable chemistry shared by John and Flea.
This video is also a fine example of John’s clean playing, which is often unfairly overlooked in favour of his fuzzed-out, wah-heavy licks, with Frusciante utilising droning strings and catchy melodic licks to get the most out of his clean tone on the Gretsch White Falcon. Also, the guitar solo in the bridge here is one of John’s best, seeing him expand on ideas laid out in the instantly memorable original recording without getting as flashy or experimental as he did in later years.
6. ‘I Could Have Lied’ – Rock Wercheter, Belgium (2002)
A mere ten days before the release of By The Way, a record that would essentially enshrine the Chili Peppers as one of the most popular acts on the European mega-festival circuit, the Red Hots snuck one of their finest deep cuts into their set for Rock Wercheter in Belgium: ‘I Could Have Lied.’
The original version contains one of Frusciante’s most popular guitar solos of all time, but this live version from 2002 is simply astounding, melding his signature style with more experimental phrasings that invoke comparisons to Robert Fripp and Frank Zappa. Unfortunately, the video and audio quality is absolutely God awful here, but with a solo like this, it really doesn’t matter if a camera was substituted for a potato: it’s just that good.
5. ‘Wet Sand’ – Pinkpop, Netherlands (2006)
While bearing some similarity to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’, ‘Wet Sand’ is another song that most Chili Peppers fans immediately associate with John due to his heavenly ending solo, as well as the passionate scream that precedes it. Until John rejoined the group, most listeners saw the ‘Wet Sand’ solo as a swan song as sorts: one last indisputable moment before he departed to pursue solo ventures.
Possibly the best example of this solo in a live context is during the band’s headlining appearance at Pinkpop in the Netherlands, where John takes off with a rendition that closely follows the structure of the original recording, but with enough improvised material and flair to make it unique. I think it’s safe to say there’ll be a lot of fans expecting to hear this when John takes to the stage with the band again for the first time since 2007.
4. ‘Dani California’ – Brit Awards, London (2007)
Honestly, we could have chosen any number of solos from ‘Dani California’: the ‘Live At Alcratraz’ version is a classic, and ‘Live Earth’ rendition is an unsung hero as well. Maybe one day we’ll run a definitive list of ‘Dani California’ solos, but for today, we’re going to look at John’s solo at the Brit Awards in 2007 for one specific reason: the Clapton connection.
This example sees John channel Slowhand’s emotive style made most famous throughout recordings by Cream and Blind Faith, with Frusciante embracing Clapton’s approach to vibrato and adding in a Hendrix-inspired rubato for one of his bluesiest slow-burners to date. There’s also a classic scorcher of a slur lick at the end of this one: it’s 100% worth your time notating this one to get a feel of everything going on here.
3. ‘Parallel Universe’ – Slane Castle, Ireland (2003)
We’ve already touched upon Slane Castle, but no list would be complete without mentioning the solo in this live version of ‘Parallel Universe’. A favourite among most Frusicante fans, this one sees John go into overdrive and take it into the wings, serenading the rowdy crowd with a incredibly shreddy yet characteristically melodic guitar solo. This one is absolutely blistering, and goes to show just how dynamic Frusciante can be when he taps into a steady groove to flex over.
2. ‘Don’t Forget Me’ – La Cigale, Paris (2006)
It’s videos like these that have forced so many doubters to come to grips with the fact that Frusciante is worth all the hype. ‘Don’t Forget Me’ is unanimously regarded as one of the Chili Peppers’ best tracks, with the band eschewing their funk rock roots for a starkly minimal and melodic cut that’s certainly stood the test of time.
Filmed in Paris to promote the release of Stadium Arcadium, the performance that John cranks out for this rendition is absolutely mind-blowing, with Frusciante tearing through the scales and embelishing his solos with melodic slur licks to make for an all-time live version of the fan favourite.
1. ‘Outro Jam’ – Chorzow, Poland (2007)
There’s a million moments from this concert alone that could easily take the cake – the ‘Dani California’ solo is explosive, ‘Californication’ is a tear-jerker, and the Chilli Peppers even play some of their best deep cuts like ‘This Velvet Glove’ and ‘Readymade’.
However, the undeniable highlight of this show is the final jam, where Kiedis departs the stage and leaves the golden trio of Chad Smith, Flea and John Frusciante (with Josh Klinghoffer accompanying on synths) to display their instrumental chops.
What eventuates is one of the most electrifying improvisations ever caught on camera, with Frusciante leading the way and squeezing just about every technique he’s known for into a gloriously psychedelic 18 minute jam, as well as experimenting with some abstract ideas he’d later flesh out on his solo LP The Empyrean. I get chills every time.