inger Anthony Kiedis has developed an engagingly allusive description of the music his band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, plays: "hard-core-bone-crunching-mayhem-psychedelic-sex-funk-from-heaven."

Whatever the name, it's visceral, a flying wedge of sound that connects the frenetic stage antics of the Peppers -- truth in packaging would require they be called the Red Hot Mexican Jumping Beans -- to frantic audiences that seem to convulse in roiling rhythm.

Over the last few years, the Peppers have been getting gradually hotter, and their increased visibility has occasionally landed them in the hot seat.

"A lot of our venues are getting quite nice, with the exception of this bunker," Kiedis jokes backstage at the University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum. Ritchie is a celebration of concrete, that rare hall where the seats -- slabs, actually -- are likely to do more damage to the audience than the audience could possibly do to them. It's packed for the Peppers' recent concert, and for 90 minutes the area in front of the stage is jammed with hopping fans and slam-dancers, some of whom catch a human wave and body-surf forward, only to be turned around at the lip of the stage by security guards. All night they keep coming, energized by the Pepper's half-naked on-stage antics.

"Since we started seven years ago, the perception has been a frantic, aggressive enjoyment of our band," Kiedis, 27, says proudly. "Our fans have always been very intense, loyal and emotionally moved by us. It's just the numbers are increasing."

It's not just the fan-base that's growing. So is the band's reputation as the Red Hot Chili Perpetrators. In April, Kiedis was convicted of sexual battery and indecent exposure resulting from a backstage incident a year before at George Mason University's Patriot Center. He was fined $1,000 on each misdemeanor charge.

In March of this year, bassist Michael "Flea" Balzary, 28, and drummer Chad Smith, 27, were arrested in Daytona Beach, Fla., after a spring break taping for "Club MTV." Balzary faces misdemeanor charges of battery, disorderly conduct and solicitation to commit an unnatural act after grabbing a woman in the audience, trying to remove part of her clothing and simulating a sex act after she refused to perform a sex act with him. Smith was charged with battery. A trial has not yet been scheduled, and though the Peppers insist the incident was a jest, there are already repercussions: The State University of New York's College at New Paltz banned them from playing a free concert there. In an attempt to salvage the situation, the Peppers sent a videotape of the incident to SUNY, offered to discuss it and said they would sign a contract promising to be on their best behavior. The concert remained canceled.

Kiedis insists the Virginia incident was "blown way out of proportion by both the media and the prosecution. It was a playful thing that happened backstage -- there was never any harmful intention. Speaking for my band and myself, we're all very friendly people who would never want to hurt anybody or make people uncomfortable."

In the Florida incident, the band was lip-syncing the song "Knock Me Down," which deals with the 1988 death by heroin overdose of original Pepper guitarist Hillel Slovak.

"We don't enjoy lip-syncing," says Kiedis. "It's not a very musical experience, and it doesn't make sense to us, and the nature of that song didn't lend itself to being phony. It's a very honest song about a very emotional experience when someone that we loved very much died."

On those occasions that they do lip-sync, the band members often undermine the situation by trading instruments and acting up, out of sync. "We started serious, but towards the end, we looked at each other, thought it was stupid, put instruments down and dove into audience," Kiedis says. "Chad and Flea picked up a couple of girls on their shoulders, thinking they would like that -- let's dance around on the beach. Someone fell over, a girl was knocked down, and there was some friendly profanity in the exchange -- it was a show."

Suddenly, after years without the glare of publicity or the attention of MTV, the Peppers have found perhaps a bit too much of both.

"The climate is terrible right now," Kiedis says, "but the way we've dealt with that in the past is basically to ignore it, and that's always worked for us. We do what we do and we believe in it and we're not going to change what we do for anybody. Somehow we've always managed to slip through the cracks and we've never been hassled up until now with these court cases.

"Once people have experienced us face to face, they know that we're not villains."

Kiedis's father, on the other hand, is a villain -- professionally only. One of the mainstays of the Sunset Strip scene in the late '60s and early '70s, Blackie Dammett is a character actor most often cast as "a psychopath or villain," Kiedis says.

"My dad was my hero and idol {when I was} a young teenager," Kiedis recalls. "I wanted to be just like him. We both had real long hair in the early '70s. Then he cut it all off and went to slicked-back, changed his look, and I did the same thing. He studied with Lee Strasberg, and so did I when I was still in high school." In 1978, Kiedis was cast as Sylvester Stallone's son in the punchless "F.I.S.T.," "but then I just got too crazy to handle the responsibility of being a young actor."

Soon afterward, the younger Kiedis's hair was growing out again and he became part of a scene fueled by the "attack-oriented punk rock energy" of bands like Black Flag, the Circle Jerks and Fear. "We grew up listening to these bands, going to see them play," he says, adding that those bands' maelstrom of punk fashion and sledge-hammer rhythms sounded at breakneck pace "are what inspired us to be so physical in our approach to playing music.

"Our sound and our energy is fairly unique to a specific area of Los Angeles -- Hollywood," Kiedis explains. "We all went to high school together -- Flea, {drummer} Jack Irons, Hillel Slovak and myself. We all met at Fairfax High, we all shared our lives together as kids. The growing-up experience in Hollywood is very intense because there is so much going on there, so much beauty and so much tragedy at the same time, that the sensory input is phenomenal. You've also got the deserts to the east and the ocean to the west, and so the energy in the air is very intense and electric. People are attracted to Los Angeles like a magnet. It was just a matter of time before the pot got to boil."

Kiedis, who sports an Indian totem tatto on his back and portraits of chief Tecumshe and Sitting Bull (on the credits for the band's latest album, he thanks the latter for killing Gen. Custer) says he had no intention of being a musician until hearing a Defunkt record at age 19. "I used to spin around the house, and I thought how wonderful it would be to make other people feel the way I feel. Then I heard {rapper} Grandmaster Flash and it dawned on me: I can write poetry, and this is my chance to get into a band. I had no training or experience as a singer, but I knew I could hang with the rap. It all kind of took off from there."

Slovak, Irons and Balzary had all been playing music since their early teens; the multi-color mohawked Balzary is also an actor, having costarred in Penelope Spheeris's L.A.-punk epic "Suburbia" and played several other minor roles, including Michael J. Fox's boss in "Back to the Future II."

In 1983 the Peppers finally came together, almost as an afterthought. Someone asked them to create a single song for a punk club happening. The afternoon rehearsal was basically a cappella, with Flea offering a bass line and Kiedis fitting in a sudden rap. "We took the stage and didn't know what to expect," Kiedis recalls. "It was complete anarchy and mayhem, and we destroyed the whole stage."

Obviously, they couldn't do an encore. "We didn't have one. But the owner asked us to come back next week with two songs. We said, 'Yeah,' and we did." That first song, "Out in L.A.," remains the Peppers' show opener.

Since then there have been thousands of shows for loyal and increasingly larger legions of fans, and four albums, each selling better than its predecessors. Along the way, the Peppers have become purveyors of what some have called "white funk," a reference to the band's appreciation of the legacy of George Clinton. "It took us by surprise because we were so unexposed to that kind of music," Kiedis notes. "When we began the band we didn't know anything about Parliament-Funkadelic at all, and it wasn't until after our first record, when people kept coming up to us and said, 'You guys must be totally down with the Funk,' that we looked into it, studied it and realized that it was some of the most beautiful music of the century. And that's when we started to educate ourselves to that music." They also got Clinton to produce their 1986 album, "Freaky Styley."

Then as now, Peppers music is a startling meld of the physical and cerebral. "That's really the challenge," Kiedis says. "The type of music that we play propels us into physical gyrations. There's also a lot of practice. These guys are all great musicians, and they spend enough time with their instruments that it's second nature and they are able to release themselves physically on stage without having to think too much about what they're doing. The tornado starts from the second we get on stage, and we don't fight it, we go with it. It's the combination of precision and anarchy that makes us viable."

Since MTV was slow in opening up to the Peppers, they found other ways to become visible. Their 1988 album featured a cover parody of the Beatles' "Abbey Road," with the Peppers crossing the street naked except for socks on their genitals. They've also been known to perform encores in similar undress. In fact, fans hope, and sometimes expect, to attend a sock hop.

"If you have too many expectations, you can be disappointed," Kiedis says with a shrug. "The thing with the socks, it's such a small part of what we're all about. It's just part of the showmanship, a joke. It's a good feeling for us to be on stage naked playing a song, but we usually only do it for an encore. The energy rises, people get a good laugh, but it's really all about the music that we play, the songs that we write. The ideology and philosophy and the approach of the band is what we prefer people focus on."

The band itself had to refocus after the June 1988 death of Slovak. Irons, the drummer, ended up leaving the band, and it was then that Smith and 19-year-old guitarist John Frusciante joined the group. Kiedis is very direct when he talks about Slovak, with whom he first became friends in junior high school.

"Although he died specifically of a drug overdose, the real cause of Hillel's death was the disease of drug addiction, and when people are afflicted with that particular disease there's very little that an outside force can do, other than suggest possible alternatives for treatment or for help, and we had done all that, especially since I had gone through that myself.

"I've been clean for 21 months now," he adds, "and trying for a year before that to get clean. I was always saying to Hillel, 'I want to spend my life with you and I think we should both be totally clean. There's no room for drugs or alcohol in our life anymore. We've been through that and we've gotten all the good things out of it, and now it's only going to lead to bad things.'

"But until you really have the desire from within to make what at the time seems like a sacrifice and later turns out to be the greatest thing you could have ever done for yourself, until you really have that inner desire to change your life, there's nothing that anybody can say to you. But there's no way you're going to listen to anybody until it gets bad enough that you decide you're willing to do what needs to be done.

"And Hillel hadn't gotten to that point. Still, no one ever expected {his death} because though everyone knew it was a serious problem, Hillel always gave the illusion that he had it under control -- he always maintained his business affairs and kept playing music. It was unexpected, and if anybody was going to die, everybody pretty much thought it was going to be me."

The swirl of emotions surrounding Slovak's death is evident in the song "Knock Me Down," in which Kiedis sings, "If you see me getting high ... knock me down."

"It's basically a love song about a friend, about the sadness of missing somebody that you really enjoyed being with, and it actually feels good to talk about it, sing about it and to be able to express it in music. It would be more painful if it was bottled up inside, and I know it's having an effect on people that listen to it."

The updated Peppers have a ritual before each show: In their dressing room at Ritchie Coliseum they form a small circle of four, lock hands and swing their arms in small circles, shouting encouragement at each other, very much like a sports team. "We are four people aiming for the same goal at the same time, and our energy is derived from that," says Kiedis.

In fact, a song on the new "Mother's Milk" album celebrates fellow Angeleno Magic Johnson. "We use the Lakers as a guideline for our own team," says Kiedis. The band was supposed to meet with Johnson recently for a news-video shoot, but "just like us, before Magic gets ready to play, he doesn't want to meet anybody because he's focusing all his concentration on what has to be done for the task on hand, which is to win the game."

Meanwhile, don't look for trials, tribulations or criticism to damper the Peppers' on-stage celebration of the physical, the sensual and the sexual.

"In America too many people look at sex and violence as one and the same thing," says Kiedis. "We're here to break down that barrier, because the sexuality or physicality of a human being is something that does deserve to be celebrated. It's a very beautiful part of our lives and the lives of many people in this country, but for people to associate sex with something lurid and lascivious doesn't make sense to us, especially when it's done in a good-natured fashion.

"There is a distinct correlation between sex and certain kinds of music, especially in funk, where the rhythmic correlations are undeniable," Kiedis adds. "And there is a celebration of that and that's what it should be, and that's what we promote, not something twisted and devious. It's a very positive energy reflected in the music. Woody Allen said it best: The brain is probably the most overrated organ. Without the physical capacity to enjoy that aspect of life, you're really only getting the half of it."