Photo: Ellen von Unwerth // Story: Stephen Becker with Art&Seek
Last night, a punk show nearly broke out at a rock concert.
A few songs into the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ nearly two-hour show, a full water bottle came flying out of the crowd onto the stage. A few minutes later, a second one was launched. RHCP frontman Anthony Kiedis wasn’t having it. “I want to see that [expletive] after the show!” he yelled at someone on the security team.
Right on! I mean, it wasn’t exactly Nirvana at Trees, but for a brief moment there was a possibility that something unexpected might happen during what has become the tightly scripted shows performed by any band big enough to play the AAC. All those lights and video screens take a lot of coordination, and spontaneity is usually the opportunity cost.
Tuesday night’s show was no exception as the Chilis powered through nearly 30 years of hits. Aside from the bottle incident, Kiedis was all business with a cap pulled low over his eyes and that pesky shirt gone within minutes of the opener. When other frontmen – Dave Grohl, Bono – reach out to the back row, Kiedis and his bandmates gather in tight, projecting an us-against-you vibe. It’s nice to feel loved by rock’s more engaging frontmen, but it sometimes makes you think, “If the coolest guy in the room thinks I’m cool, how cool could he really be?” With Kiedis, there’s always a doubt over whether he even cares you’re there, which lends an air of mystery and appealing arrogance to the proceedings. When the band closed the ranks around Chad Smith’s drum kit for a thoroughly funky take on “I Like Dirt,” it was as if we were privy to a private jam happening in Flea’s garage.
This tour marks the band’s first with guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, who replaced John Frusciante as the band recorded its most recent album, 2011’s I’m With You. Klinghoffer serviceably played faithful re-creations of the group’s songs, but it felt more like he was playing in a Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band than the real thing. The few solo opportunities offered to him were mostly exercises in muddy feedback. It’s a thankless job replacing the great Frusciante, who played his guitar with wild abandon – as if it were a divining rod he was frantically trying to harness. Maybe it’s unfair to be compared with your predecessor, but the book on Frusciante was always that he was a Hendrix knockoff, so it happens to everyone.
Highlights of the show included the band’s now equally famous cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” an energetic, first-set closing run through “By the Way” and a lengthy percussion jam session that opened the encore. The show closed with the band’s two best songs – “Suck My Kiss” and “Give it Away” sandwiched around a cover of Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere.” As the final notes rang out, Flea took the mic for some heartfelt thanks and a rambling plea to the crowd to embrace all kinds of music. By the time he was done, Kiedis was long gone.
Maybe he’d found the infamous water-bottle thrower.