When Red Hot Chili Peppers management queried Chad Smith about the group's Detroit metro area show for its current Getaway World Tour, the drummer's choice was instantaneous.
"I'm like, 'I want to play Joe Louis Arena," Smith, 55 -- who was raised in Bloomfield Hills and graduated from the old Lahser High School -- says by phone from St. Louis. "Our booking agents said, 'Oh, you're getting a better offer from the Palace, blah, blah, blah,' and I"m like, 'I don't care about the money. It's got to be Joe Louis.' And they said, 'OK.'"
The reason is clear, of course. With the arena set to close later this year and move its Hockeytown heritage to the new Little Caesars Arena, it offers Smith one last chance to play one of his home town's most revered venues.
"It's a great, obviously storied place," notes Smith, who brought retired Red Wings captain Niklas Lidstrom onstage at the end of the Chili Peppers' June 1, 2012 show at Joe Louis as a kind of final farewell for fans. "As a kid I went to so many concerts and so many hockey games there. It means a lot to be. I'll be very happy to do one last show in that place."
Smith and company have more to offer their Detroit area fans than just their presence. There's plenty of new music from "The Getaway" album, which came out last June. There's even a song called "Detroit" -- or, as Smith bellows across the phone line, "Deeeeetroit!" -- which will surely get an airing at Joe Louis.
The song, according to Smith, was built around a guitar riff from Josh Klinghoffer. At a later session Grand Rapids-born frontman Anthony Kiedis asked the rest of the group to start playing the instrumental bed of the song, and Smith remembers that when they hit the chorus "he starts going 'Detroit, I'm crazy' and I'm like, 'is he saying Detroit I'm crazy?' And then I start hearing Henry Ford and Funkadelic and J. Dilla, the Stooges. I'm like, 'Wow, this is a love letter to Detroit. This song is great!'
"Obiously (Kiedis) knew I was gonna be very pleased about it. It's one of my favorite songs on (the album)."
"The Getaway," meanwhile, represents a new era for the Chili Peppers. It marks the first time since 1991 the group has worked without producer Rick Rubin, this time using Danger Mouse (the Black Keys, Gnarls Barkley, Broken Bells). The change wasn't easy; As Smith notes, "We've discussed other people in the past but we always come back to Rick because he's just so great and we're so comfortable working with him."
But for "The Getaway," the Chili Peppers' follow-up to 2011's "I'm With You," the band was finally ready to pull the trigger for change.
"This time around we felt like we were in danger of making just another rock album, maybe sounding the same, and we really felt like it was time to work with somebody else and see what happened," says Smith, a Chili Pepper since 1988, after playing in the Detroit band Toby Redd. "These albums are like standalone documents, and you want them to be the best they can be and always changing and growing.
"So we really challenged ourselves. It's a little different for us, but it still sounds like the Red Hot Chili Peppers."
Fans have certainly embraced the change. "The Getaway" debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, with the first single "Dark Necessities" topping the Alternative and Mainstream Rock charts. The Getaway World Tour has been doing sell-out business around the globe, and it will likely keep the Chili Peppers on the road into 2018.
"It's going great, man," says Smith, who's also hosting a new PBS music and travel show "Landmarks Live In Concert," which starts airing in June. "We're having a blast. People are coming. It's amazing. I think now we're really playing at a really high level, as humbly as I can say about our little band that we take so seriously. Our live performances that we've been on the road most of, about six months and we're hitting a good groove.
The new songs are fitting right in and people start cheering, and it's a good feeling. We can't ask for any more, y'know?"
Red Hot Chili Peppers and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2.
Joe Louis Arena, 19 Yzerman Drive, Detroit.
Tickets are sold out.
Call 313-471-6606 or visit olympiaentertainment.com.
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