Yesterday, on Flea's 50th birthday, the Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist opened up his backyard to celebrate the two most important elements of his musical career: the Peppers and the Silver Lake Conservatory, the Los Angeles music school he founded 11 years ago.
For Flea, uniting the two to raise funds for the school was the perfect way to commemorate his milestone. "For this to happen on my 50th birthday tonight is the best gift I could ever hope to receive," he told Rolling Stone before the show, which featured an intimate set by the Chili Peppers.
A devout believer in music education, Flea calls the conservatory "the best thing in my life" and has taught at the school during downtime from the Chili Peppers. "A big part of my life is music education because it changed my life – but arts, academics and athletics should all be equally treated in the school," he said. "There are all different kinds of kids and those three things are all vital towards the generation of kids coming up to be happy, productive good citizens... I always think of this one kid that I taught for a while, bounced around from foster home to foster home and institutions and was so troubled. I would go to see him in places where he lived in these institutions and it was rough, hard to come out of that. [But] he loved it and now he's at USC, thriving."
Flea was feeling especially thankful throughout the night, due in part to opening act Rancid. The punk band's singer, Tim Armstrong, is a supporter of the school and also attended it as a student. "Tim studied there, he took lessons there – he was taking flamenco or something," Flea said. "Tim's cool [and] those guys showed up. They played for us before, paid for everything, gave us all the merch, everything. Those guys are so generous – they're, like, walking the walk, dude."
Rancid stepped up even more last night with a 30-minute set that bridged the sit-down dinner with the concert portion of the evening. It included a surprise performance from Ben Harper, who turned his cover of "Hallelujah" into "Happy Birthday" while a giant birthday cake featuring a stand-up bass was brought out for Flea.
The evening included several other enticements, including an auction of two original pieces of art, one from Banksy and the other from Takashi Murakami; each net over $100,000. Around 10:30 p.m., the auction closed down, the food stopped and the main event that brought out celebrities from Owen Wilson and Ed Norton to Rick Rubin took place: the Chili Peppers played Flea's backyard.
Opening with "Can't Stop," the band used the intimate space to show off their more experimental elements, with a drum and bongo solo leading into I'm With You's "Monarchy of Roses" and Flea playing some jazzy basslines while seated during "Soul to Squeeze." The Chilis also did a sterling cover of Neil Young's "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" that featured superb harmonies – no coincidence, as Flea told Rolling Stone that his dream guest performer for the conservatory is Young.
As the benefit unfolded, the second presidential debate aired live, and Flea took the opportunity to stress how politicians should lend support to his causes. "The last thing that should happen is funding cut for education; it should be increased. We need to put more money towards education and anything else is abusive," he said backstage. "The most important thing to me with any politician is that they don't start wars, but education is a big part of that, too, because educated people are less likely to do stupid, violent things."
Before the Chili Peppers wrapped up with "By the Way," an emotional Flea thanked the crowd. "It's been kind of an overwhelming experience for me," he told them. "It feels really meaningful and poignant to have everybody come out and support."
Red Hot Chili Peppers setlist:
"Snow (Hey Oh)"
"Monarchy of Roses"
"Soul to Squeeze"
"The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie"
"Right on Time"
"Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere"
"Give It Away"
"By the Way"