Love them or loathe them, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have succeeded where many that have come before and after them failed: they’ve managed to remain a global phenomenon and pop culture mainstay for the best part of three decades, continuing to excite veteran listeners whilst constantly winning over newer generations with their sunny, inimitable brand of melodic funk rock. Their Danger Mouse-produced eleventh album, ‘The Getaway’, was released to critical acclaim earlier this year, and though they may no longer be at their absolute zenith of relevance and ubiquity – the world-beating, chart-dominating phase that lasted from 1999’s ‘Californication’ to 2006’s sprawling effort ‘Stadium Arcadium’ – they still remain one of the most beloved acts around and, as their current run of UK shows attests to, one of the most enthralling live acts on the circuit.
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After a remarkably heavy and intense opening jam by the three virtuoso instrumentalists in the band – drummer Chad Smith, newest recruit and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer and bass guitar icon Michael “Flea” Balzary – the Chili Peppers kicked off their second and final Manchester date with a crowd-pleasing trio of hits: ‘Can’t Stop’, ‘Dani California’ and ‘Scar Tissue’, before launching into their recent, brooding single ‘Dark Necessities’. Both Flea and age-defying frontman Anthony Kiedis were on energetic form throughout, with the former giddily running and leaping across the stage without missing a note and the latter in fine voice (despite forgetting lyrics with alarming regularity, a reality many fans have long since resigned to accepting as more of an endearing quirk than an embarrassing flaw).
With a band so technically proficient – and known for their loose, improvisational musicality – their shows usually let the music do the lion’s share of the talking. Perhaps taking inspiration from U2’s latest tour, however, their current live setup also includes an ambitious, animated rig of LED lights that hang over the stage and crowd alike, that animate to the music – dropping low, forming into shapes, spiralling discs and moving waves whilst changing colour in a lava lamp-type fashion. Its effect is visually impressive, even mesmerizing in places, and adds a dimension of space-age theatricality not usually seen at Chili Peppers concerts.
The real surprise of the night, however, came in the form of Klinghoffer’s consistently spirited performance. Nearly twenty years younger than the rest of the band, the famously shy guitarist seems to have steadily grown in confidence since his promotion from touring member to the band’s sole axeman in 2009. Where once he regarded his obligation to be a guitar hero as a reluctant one – his guitar parts were mixed noticeably low on his first studio outing I’m With You, and his general unease in the limelight was a regular discussion point during the ensuing tour – he now seems to relish the role, having become much more dynamic onstage, taking lead vocals on impromptu covers (The Dubliners’ ‘Dirty Old Town’) and even delighting in tearing through the odd Hendrix-inspired solo. Though he’ll likely never fully escape the shadow of his celebrated mentor-turned-predecessor John Frusciante in the eyes of fans and critics, he doesn’t really need to; his is a own distinct style is a more subtle, textural approach to guitar – his tasteful re-imagining of the ‘Scar Tissue’ solo as a kaleidoscopic swirl of effects being one notable example – and one that makes comparison between the two essentially pointless.
In addition to the mandatory concert mainstays – the lighters-in-the-air moment ‘Under the Bridge’, the mass sing-along ‘By The Way’ and the testosterone-filled funk metal of ‘Suck My Kiss’ – the night’s setlist also yielded a few surprises for the faithful; the pretty, criminally overlooked ballad ‘Hey’ got an airing early on, as did the ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’ cut ‘If You Have To Ask’, which was wisely played at a slower tempo, helping accentuating its rolling, bass-heavy groove. New material from ‘The Getaway’, meanwhile, sounded fresh and vibrant, with the title track showcasing Klinghoffer’s Cure-esque noodlings, and the zesty ode to android lovin’ ‘Go Robot’ featuring icy new wave synths and a second bass part played in tandem (provided by Flea’s bass tech).
The only real lull came from ‘Right on Time’, the tired, oft-played ‘Californication’ track that, despite being one of their weaker offerings, continues to be inexplicably included in their shows – a crime that could perhaps be forgiven were it not for their systematic neglect of their early albums; none of their boisterous first four records were represented in seventeen song set, which is typical of latter-day Peppers shows. Indeed, their back catalogue of classics has become so long and winding that even some heavy hitters (‘Snow’, ‘Around the World’, ‘The Zephyr Song’) were shafted in lieu of their newest offerings, which whilst a disappointment to some only solidifies their status as perhaps the most enduring band of the alternative rock era.
Though they’ve mellowed in their advancing years – their lyrical outlook now more spiritual than carnal, their sound more unabashedly pop, the socks on cocks thankfully kept at bay – their live set continues to prove that the Red Hot Chili Peppers remain one of rock’s most irreplaceable acts.
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