May 11, 2012

Give I’rrr Away, Give I’rrr Away, Give I’rrr Away Now

Twenty-eight years ago, if you saw a little band called Red Hot Chili Peppers at a club on the Sunset Strip, could you have guessed what they might be like three decades later?   In a word, NO.

At the Verizon Center on May 10, gone were displays of sock couture, drugs, off-key rap/singing, and sub-par P-Funk rip-offs. Instead, RHCP showed how they have evolved into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees who specialize in concise, catchy pop/rock songs; super-tight performances and displays of big-production Arena Rock; and boast a multi-generational audience.  

Unlike most bands of their vintage, RHCPs have deftly managed to avoid being relegated to a certain timeframe or genre of music. This transcendence is most obvious in the fact that new songs were greeted with the same enthusiasm and familiarity as the classic cuts. No one made a b-line to the hot dog or beer stands when they dared to play five songs off their new album. In fact, with the exception of the Stevie Wonder cover Higher Ground, their setlist comprised only songs post-Mother’s Milk. Let’s be honest, it was only beginning with Blood Sugar Sex Magick that the band hit their true stride, both in terms of songwriting and vocals (translation: Anthony Kiedis began singing in key). So it’s no surprise that the band chose wisely to ignore their older material. The audience certainly didn’t seem to mind.

               Red Hot Chili Peppers, Verizon Center, May 10, 2012

The band’s performance was flawless. While even the best of singers seem to lose the vocal fire they had in their youth, Anthony’s vocals seem to have an inverted trajectory - he sounds better now than he’s ever sounded before. Flea and Chad Smith are, hands-down, the best rhythm section in rock, and were also the obvious stars of the show. Their numerous instrumental jams peppered throughout the show were brazen displays of funk-driven virtuosity. New guitarist Josh Klinghoffer ably held his own, both on tracks from their latest, I’m With You, as well as on the more technically- and idiosyncratically-challenging John Frusciante guitar parts. Klinghoffer’s only challenge seemed to be with his guitar sound. Perhaps it was the result of where I was sitting or maybe just acoustic problems inherent in a cavernous hockey arena, but his guitars often seemed to get lost against the mix of the rhythm section. Nevertheless, augmented by a keyboardist and percussionist, the band sounded as fully-realized as they do on their Rick Rubin-produced albums. 

Physically, like most bands that still record and tour 30 years on, RHCP seem perpetually young. They’re still closer to their youthful Simpsons cartoon incarnation, than a group in which three-fourths of the members turn 50 years old this year. Anthony still resembles a young, better-looking Iggy Pop…albeit, with a disturbing mustache and a Kate Gosselin-meets-Hitler haircut. Flea still retains the appearance and physique of Sting’s uglier younger brother, and Chad Smith – recently, of Chickenfoot fame – still remains Will Ferrell’s doppelganger.

…So with the compliments out of the way…

As good as the band was technically, there was just an ever-so-mild sense of super-professionalism, over-rehearsal, and perfection at the expense of fun and feel. In particular, Anthony seemed to exude this vibe. It didn’t help that his banter with the audience was minimal. He seemed to show up, perform his job to perfection, and exit the stage quietly without fanfare before the final jam of the night.  

Next time, perhaps just a bit more cartoonish fun, Anthony?…

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