Over the past decade Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea has called on countless friends, from Tracy Chapman and Patti Smith to Metallica, to help him raise money for the Southern California school he started, the Silverlake Conservatory of Music. One artist, however, has topped his wish list: Neil Young. Last night Flea's dream became reality when the Chili Peppers and Young teamed up for an incredible night of music in the backyard of the gorgeous Paramour Mansion in Silverlake.
"I asked him, he said yes. Pretty simple," Flea told Rollng Stone before the show. "I'm a huge fan of his, and that he is playing for us tonight really means everything."
Flea also explained why Young's music is so important to him. "Neil is the kind of guy that's just always shown up for everybody and for himself. He's always been willing to take risks and to be willing even to fail," he said. "He's always done anything he wanted. He's an artist that always grows and moves and changes. I think, personally, from the rock musicians from the Sixties, he's kind of the only one that's still relevant to kids, like to a young, wild kid growing up, he's the only one that's still relevant, because he never ignores anything. He was open to punk rock when it happened, he was open to electronic music when it happened. He's an in-touch person . . . Needless to say, I'm a huge fan."
Taking the stage about 9:20, while patrons including Jack Black, Serj Tankian and Rancid's Tim Armstrong were still working on their family-style meals, Young backed up all of Flea's assertions. In this loose setting, playing acoustic in a backyard, Young covered Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" as his second song, setting the tone for a very informal set.
At one point, as Young tuned his guitar he joked, "If I have to tune myself, we're all in trouble." But there was nothing but beauty, including a Phil Ochs cover, after which he said, "There were a lot of great songwriters back then. People liked to listen to words." Among his own songs, using only piano, guitar and harmonica at various points, the highlights included "Comes a Time," a sweet rendition of "Harvest Moon" and the closing "Heart of Gold."
With the show coming just three days after Young's annual Bridge School benefit in Mountain View, California, Flea talked about their shared passion for education. "The Bridge School obviously is an incredibly beautiful thing," he said. "People get challenges in life. Neil had a kid with cerebral palsy, and instead of thinking, ‘Oh, how am I gonna deal with this?' he's like, 'OK, this is a great opportunity to learn about something and do everything I can to help . . . ' I'll play the Bridge School benefit anytime."
Like Young, he said, he and his band are committed to helping wherever needed: "We're gonna be dead one day. This life is not a joke."
The Chili Peppers, who headline arenas on their own, gratefully assumed the role of opening act. They hit the stage (with no introduction) just about 8:15. After an extended funk jam between Flea, drummer Chad Smith and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, frontman Anthony Kiedis bounded onstage, and the group launched into a raucous "Can't Stop."
While the Chili Peppers' five-song barrage contrasted sharply with the simple elegance of Young's acoustic songs, the Chili Peppers approached their set with the same intimacy. "The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie" found the quartet again displaying their funk virtuosity, and hearing their quiet cover of Young's "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" was like a eavesdropping on a soundcheck jam. They rounded outthe set with impressive versions of "Around the World" and "By the Way."
Kiedis also paid tribute to the late Lou Reed, "maybe the coolest man to ever walk the streets of New York." While people are usually remembered with a moment of silence, he called on the audience to have a "moment of noise for Lou."
The band's wall of sound quickly turned into a spot-on snippet of the Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting for the Man." Young also honored Reed during his set, saying, "We all want more Lou Reed." On this night, there was nothing more fitting than two great acts acknowledging a fellow musician they admired.
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This article originally appeared on Rolling Stone: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Neil Young Join Forces for Backyard Benefit