After the Red Hot Chili Peppers performed with Bruno Mars during the Super Bowl halftime show, people began to comment on the fact that it appeared as though the band’s instruments weren’t plugged in and it seemed as though they were miming their way through the performance. As a response to that criticism, RHCP posted a note on their website explaining that they were indeed playing along with a pre-recorded track, as well as their reasons for doing so.
A note from the band’s bassist, Flea, explained why the group chose to perform at the Super Bowl despite being told by the NFL that they would have to perform along with a backing track. Flea said that the band has only agreed to mime performances a handful of times over their thirty-year career. “We take our music playing seriously, it is a sacred thing for us, and anyone who has ever seen us in concert (like the night before the Super Bowl at the Barclays Center), knows that we play from our heart, we improvise spontaneously, take musical risks, and sweat blood at every show,” he said.
“When we were asked by the NFL and Bruno to play our song ‘Give It Away’ at the Super Bowl, it was made clear to us that the vocals would be live, but the bass, drums, and guitar would be pre-recorded. I understand the NFL’s stance on this, given they only have a few minutes to set up the stage, there a zillion things that could go wrong and ruin the sound for the folks watching in the stadium and the TV viewers. There was not any room for argument on this, the NFL does not want to risk their show being botched by bad sound, period,” Flea said.
Flea went on to explain that the band agreed to perform at the Super Bowl despite the requirement that they mime the performance because the band felt it was “a surreal-like, once in a lifetime crazy thing to do.” The band chose not to plug in their guitars because they felt it would be dishonest to try and fool the people watching the performance. Singer Anthony Kiedis sang live, as did Mars, but the rest of the band played along with a track that had been pre-recorded especially for the Super Bowl performance.
Despite the attempt to be completely honest about the nature of such a performance, the band has still gotten criticism from fans and the music press. Guns and Roses frontman Axl Rose tore the band apart in an op-ed piece for Billboard. “So consider that maybe sometime before their actual performance that rather than use a guitar cord or standard wireless, that in the name of science and for all mankind Flea courageously had a newly invented breakthrough in microchip technology installed in his ass that picked up the frequencies of his bass and transmitted them to his amplifier,” Rose wrote, keyboard dripping with sarcasm. He also referred to the band’s performance as essentially glorified “karaoke,” since Kiedis’ vocals were live.
“This is probably all just Google finding new ways to enrich our lives with the selfless volunteering of the Peppers and the ever-ongoing creative process of true innovation or perhaps a new lounge bar record of super magnificent proportions and a new pinnacle of human achievement not seen since the sign language guy in South Africa,” Rose continued, all the while failing to acknowledge the fact that he himself hasn’t put on a coherent performance in years.
Given how much time and effort goes into making performances sound good even in theaters that are designed with decent acoustics, it makes sense that a huge outdoor performance with no time for an extensive sound check like the Super Bowl would require performers to mime along with pre-recorded tracks — which begs the question whether such a gig is the place for a rock and roll band. Is the Super Bowl halftime show the place for musicians who are used to performing with instruments, or should it be handed over completely to pop stars whose acts are accustomed to that kind of thing? That type of environment is more conducive to the theatrical performances of pop stars like Mars or last year’s headliner Beyoncé than it is to a band like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Is there any point in watching a rock band fake it?
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