Watch Red Hot Chili Peppers cover Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit with John Frusciante on lead vocals

Flea (L) and John Frusciante of Red Hot Chili Peppers perform during the ACL Music festival 2022 at Zilker Park on October 09, 2022 in Austin, Texas.
(Image credit: Tim Mosenfelder/FilmMagic)

Red Hot Chili Peppers covered Nirvana classic Smells Like Teen Spirit during a show at Silverlake Conservatory of Music this weekend (October 29).

Fan footage shows the band launch into the track’s verse – John Frusciante’s Boss CE-1 Chorus Ensemble handling Kurt Cobain’s Small Clone warble – with Anthony Kiedis tackling the track’s lower-register verse (with a t-shirt over his head, obviously). But the rendition really erupts when Frusciante kicks in the Boss DS-2 Distortion and takes over lead vocals for the chorus, screaming the refrain that lit a fire under ’90s rock.

Sadly, the band only performed the track’s first verse and chorus to close out the show, which also featured Chili Peppers classics Snow ((Hey Oh)), Californication and By the Way.

The unexpected addition to the shorter, 11-track set is most likely down to the band’s venue for the evening: the Silverlake Conservatory of Music is a nonprofit organization founded by RHCP bassist Flea, and counts Kiedis among its board members. The bassist and his Chili Peppers bandmates regularly perform to raise money for the Conservatory, and audiences can usually expect a few surprises.

Nirvana toured with the Chili Peppers back in 1991 – an experience Kiedis would later describe as “life-changing” – but the cover is also timely given Cobain’s influence on the band’s pair of albums for 2022, Unlimited Love and Return of the Dream Canteen.

As Frusciante told us in our marathon interview earlier this year: “I really love guitar players like Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen for the way that they could make the instrument explode through hand and whammy bar techniques. But I also really like the way people like Greg Ginn or Kurt Cobain play without it being so much about technique – although there are all kinds of unconventional techniques in there – but the focus is definitely a more visceral thing.

“Eventually, by the time we were recording, my concept was to find a bridge between those two conceptions of the instrument: that idea of making it explode with the electricity of the human energy that comes through the strings.”

RHCP’s world tour has been making headlines for John Frusciante’s virtuosic solos in Eddie, the band’s tribute to Eddie Van Halen, in which the guitarist channels EVH with wild leads featuring two-hand tapping and whammy dives.

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Mike is Editor-in-Chief of GuitarWorld.com, in addition to being an offset fiend and recovering pedal addict. He has a master's degree in journalism, and has spent the past decade writing and editing for guitar publications including MusicRadar (opens in new tab), Total Guitar and Guitarist, as well as the best part of 20 years performing in bands of variable genre (and quality). In his free time, you'll find him making progressive instrumental rock under the nom de plume Maebe (opens in new tab).