Israelis Felt the Warmth From the Red Hot Chili Peppers

Many artists only make it to Israel when they are well past their peak and the performances awaken nostalgia but are ultimately disappointing. Not so in this case.

You don’t normally expect a rock concert to feel like a family affair. And the Red Hot Chili Peppers performance in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park, was first and foremost a real rock concert, the kind with muscled shirtless tattooed guys writhing on stage and performing extreme feats of guitar virtuosity.

But the feeling in the sold-out crowd of 50,000 fans wasn’t the rowdy atmosphere you might expect at such a show. The range of ages was quite amazing - there were five-year-olds and fifty-somethings. Yes, you heard that right - five year olds - on a school night, no less.

I watched these little families clustered on the grass in the back of the crowd, parents and children together singing the lyrics of the hits of this veteran band. I pictured the parents as teens or 20-somethings back in 2001, bitterly disappointed ticket-holders for the Chili Peppers concert that was cancelled for security reasons during the second intifada. Here they were, 11 years later, older, with a mortgage and a couple of kids, but determined that this time they were going to experience their favorite band live, and share it with their children (it was, I admit, slightly unsettling to watch 9-year-olds singing about “Californication” …)

There is always something uniquely exciting and moving about large concerts with big stars that play in Israel for the first time. I don’t have a huge tolerance for sweaty crowds, so I haven’t been to them all, but I did bear witness to Madonna, Michael Jackson, and U2 when they first appeared here.

The fans at these concerts are appreciative on a level you don’t see in most of the world. They are very conscious that the artist in front of them had to withstand a lot of pressure to stand by a decision to perform here, pressure which many other musicians haven’t been able to withstand.

Die-hard fans of such artists often wait years, decades, sometimes a lifetime to see their music idols in Israel. And there is something particularly special about seeing them in the familiar surroundings of Tel Aviv, and not in London or Amsterdam or New York, as these fans may have done before and not because the bassist, Flea, called out “L’Chaim!” and “Mazel Tov” to the crowd between songs. It’s a feeling of having a few hours of normality in a place where life can feel so abnormal - and feeling like part of the world when Israel can feel so isolated particularly when the band, as in the case of the Chili Peppers, came to Israel after performing in Beirut and Istanbul.

It was interesting when, while introducing the band, impresario Shuki Weiss mentioned Madonna called Israel the center of the energy of the universe and praised the positive energy of the audiences “as opposed to all the bad and negative forms of energy everyone is talking about now.” When Weiss said that, I saw faces fall, and there was even some mild booing. They weren’t there to think about Iran or war. They were there to forget about all of that and immerse themselves in the music they loved.

Luckily, the performance lived up to all of the anticipation and excitement. Many artists only make it to Israel when they are well past their peak and the performances awaken nostalgia but are ultimately disappointing. Not so in this case. The Chili Peppers may have been around for 30 years, the original members may be pushing 50, put on an amazing show. The love and the warmth exchanged between the crowd and the band was real, with references to the reason why the band felt a connection to Israel - Hillel Slovak.

Slovak, a founder and original Chili Peppers band member - the group is made up of childhood friends from Los Angeles who started the band in high school in 1983. Slovak, the band’s original guitarist was an Israeli-American who moved to California from Haifa at age 5, and sadly died of a heroin overdose in 1988. The band made several references to him, dedicating songs in his honor and in honor of his hometown in Haifa, and even reminiscing about their high school years when Hillel returned from a visit back to Israel - happy, full of energy and excited. It was the kind of intimacy the Israeli audience craved, together with the general wishes of peace and prosperity, but no Madonna-style preaching or any political pronouncements.

Because of the memory of Slovak, the audience felt it sincerity, not just show biz when soloist Anthony Kiedis told them at the end of the concert that “this is a night we will remember all our lives.”

They felt exactly the same way.