The 1998 Tibetan Freedom Concert was packed with surprises, like Michael Stipe joining Radiohead for “Lucky,” Thom Yorke returning the favor by singing “E-Bow the Letter,” with R.E.M., the Beastie Boys previewing their upcoming single “Intergalactic,” and a lightning bolt that struck a young fan during Herbie Hancock’s set and sent her to the hospital with significant burns (and shortened the first day of the show).
One of the biggest surprises came near the end of the last day when Pearl Jam cut their set 15 minutes short and handed off their instruments to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The group wasn’t officially on the bill, but they’d just reunited with John Frusciante six years after he left the band, and they were eager to get back in front of a large crowd.
The lightning storm scrambled all of the plans for the second day of the festival, and the Chili Peppers were initially told they wouldn’t get a chance to play. “Eddie Vedder got wind of our dilemma,” Anthony Kiedis wrote in his 2004 memoir, Scar Tissue, “and threatened to pull out unless we were given part of their allowed stage time. It was an amazing show of support from them, and we never forgot it.”
This was technically their third performance since Frusciante came back, following a Los Angeles radio show and a warm-up gig at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. earlier that month — but this was the big one it had all been building toward. They played just three songs: “Give It Away,” “Under the Bridge,” and “The Power of Equity.” (Here is fan-shot video of “Under the Bridge.”) “The audience was 100 percent behind us,” Kiedis wrote, “and it was such a joyful moment to be back onstage with John.”
They took that momentum into the studio with Frusciante and continued work on their comeback LP, Californication, which hit stores about a year later. It proved they had a lot more to offer fans than nostalgic renditions of the old tunes, and it launched an incredible new era of the band. Frusciante left again in 2009, but word came out earlier this month that he’s coming back for round three in 2020. They have a handful of festival gigs lined up beginning in May 2020, but it’s unclear if they plan on playing some under-the-radar gigs prior to that. Hopefully, this time it can happen without anyone getting struck by lightning.