Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Red Hot Chili Peppers - The Plasma Shaft

A moment of silence, please, for the old Echo Records store in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Back in the day, Echo was the greatest record store in all of New Zealand, in my estimation. When I lived in Christchurch, the shop was located in the Cashel Mall area on High Street, facing the now soon-to-be-demolished Hotel Grand Chancellor. Echo always had a great stock available of indie/alternative CDs from U.S. and British bands, and their local music selection (stuff like JPS Experience, Tall Dwarfs, The Clean, Chris Knox, etc.) was superb. There was another record store, Galaxy Records, further down High Street, only a few doors away. Galaxy generally had cheaper stuff available. But in terms of size and selection, Echo ran circles around this other shop. I didn't purchase many tunes in New Zealand; I've mentioned before in previous posts how ridiculously expensive CDs were in Christchurch. I preferred to buy the discs I wanted during my visits back to the States or over to Australia. But whenever I did want or need something, Echo was the venue of choice.

They used to have a frequent purchasers promotion there, that came with a little card you got punched every time you bought a full-priced album; after ten purchases, the eleventh album was free. Shortly before I left New Zealand for the first time in 1995 for grad school in Virginia, I found that I needed only two more buys to get my free CD. So, about ten days before the movers came to box up my stuff, I went downtown for my last visit to Echo.

I went into the record store with one goal in mind - I wanted Nirvana's MTV Unplugged In New York, released in November of the previous year to rave reviews, to be my free album. Other than that, I had no real idea of what else I wanted, or really any real desire to get anything else. But I hated the thought of being on the cusp of receiving my 'free' music and leaving it on the table (yeah, yeah, I know that 'free' is disingenuous, since you had to buy something to get it - but, still . . .). So I started browsing the stacks, looking for stuff even remotely interesting. I recalled recently hearing and enjoying on the University of Canterbury's indie radio station RDU the song "Diamond Shine", a cut by the New Zealand band The Clean (which had recently reformed). So I went looking for that album, Vehicle, and quickly found it. One down, one to go. But the second one to complete my set of ten was going to be tougher. I started running through the stack alphabetically, hoping something would jump out at me.

I got to the "R"s, and into the Red Hot Chili Peppers rack. Now, when the Chili Peppers first came on the scene, I thought they were the Second Coming. The first I'd ever heard of that band was on Christmas Day, 1984, when I saw the video for "True Men Don't Kill Coyotes" on MTV, and practically levitated off of my chair - they were THAT awe-inspiring. I woke up early the day after Christmas and drove through a snowstorm to the local record shop to pick up a cassette copy of their first album, featuring that song. I played that album to death, and initially became a devoted fan. Over the next couple of years, I picked up their follow-up albums (Freaky Styley (1985) and The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987)) practically the moment they came out.

But I quickly began to notice that, beginning with Freaky Styley, the RHCP began to sound a litte repetitive and formulaic to me. On their first album, the band put out what, in my mind, was a very original and exciting sound - hard rockin', with a big dollop of punk and a measured dose of funk mixed in. With Freaky Styley, and especially on The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, the band seemed to radically skew that blend, heavily emphasizing the funk sound to the detriment of everything else (I guess the move to heavier funk on the former album should have been any surprise, considering that it was produced by legendary funkmeister George Clinton). I didn't want to give up on them, and I tried really hard to like the latter album. But songs like "Fight Like A Brave" and "Funky Crime" just sounded tired and contrived, and did nothing to draw me in or retain my interest. In my opinion, the Chili Peppers were trying too hard to be something they weren't, and it was a turn-off. By the late 1980s, I had pretty much thrown in the towel on the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Of course now, looking back, I see that I made a mistake in writing them off so early. Their very next album, Mother's Milk, was the record that really began the Chili Peppers' ascent into
superstardom, a rise completed by 1991's Blood Sugar Sex Magik, in many ways their artistic and commercial peak. I missed out on pretty much all of that as it was happening, since I had all but written the band off years earlier. But the thing about good music is that, sooner or later, it makes itself known to you. By the mid-1990s, songs from BSSM (such as "Breaking The Girl", "Give It Away" and "Under The Bridge") were in heavy rotation on radio stations around the globe, and by then even I couldn't avoid hearing them and acknowledging the greatness of this music.

So in Echo that day, I decided to get my own copy of Blood Sugar Sex Magik. I picked up the standard CD copy in the bin, and noticed a black, red and blue box directly behind it. It was for something called The Plasma Shaft, a "Special Limited Edition" two-CD set that included not only a copy of BSSM, but also an additional CD containing eight songs, including "Soul To Squeeze" (another RHCP song I'd recently heard and enjoyed as well). The price for the special edition was about NZ$35.00 (about US$20.00 at the time - I told you these friggin' things were expensive in New Zealand), slightly more than the regular BSSM copy (priced at NZ$29.00). I figured what the heck, that was a good deal for some extra songs, so I put down the disc I had and picked up The Plasma Shaft instead. That made ten (finally). I gathered up a copy of the Nirvana album on my way to the register, paid for my music, and vamoosed - my very last visit to a fine music store.

A few years ago, Echo was bought by a North Island record store chain called Real Groovy, and moved to a new location on Manchester Street. The new location was badly damaged by the February earthquake, so much so that at the end of March, the company put out a press release stating that the store would not reopen. A sad and unexpected end to a city icon. I wish the employees and customers all the best in the future, and want to just say 'thanks' for hooking me up with so much good music when I was there.

I owned this double-disc set for years before I learned that The Plasma Shaft was considered to be a Chili Peppers rarity. Apparently, this set was only released in Australia and Japan in 1994, and has never seen the light of day in the States. It has been out of print for many years; copies regularly sell for $50 to $100.

I'm not going to bother providing Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the first part of the set, here. I'm sure that should be easy enough to track down. Here, however, is the second part, containing hard-to-find outtakes and B-sides from the BSSM sessions, including "Soul To Squeeze", one of the all-time great Chili Peppers songs.

 Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think:

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  1. I was searching desperately for this, I couldn't buy online at the moment. So I stumbled on this funny named blog and emailed the user, (2 YEARS) after this post if I could get a rip! within a few hours I got a reply with the link!! This person made my day! Got the mp3s in a rar file by way of 4shared! thanks pal! I owe you one!

    From Texas

  2. Didn't think i'd be able to find this anywhere, but got a response straight away and he sent me a link. Great guy, made my day!