“Road-hardened chops” is a term often used by cynical hacks to describe a really tight and professional show by a band and/or an artist. Yet, I can’t help but bring that term up when I saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers on October the 20th. From the efficient way in which the audience was whisked in, to the aptly placed merch stand to the extremely quick and tight set up for the Peppers after the opening band finished, it was a sight to behold.
The opening band was something called Thundercat, a band that had two bass players, only playing lead and one rhythm. All in all, a very impressive set of jazzy numbers and virtuosic soloing. There was only one problem: the sound. The Toyota Center is basically a basketball arena, and it seems its architecture is optimized for that and not for concerts. As a result, the drums were too loud (maybe because I was close to the stage) and the bass was vague and boomy. Still, the vocals were pretty audible, as was the keyboard.
When the Peppers started, they started with a bit of a misstep. Flea – resplendent in Native American print pajamas – had a slightly detuned bass. And any musician will tell you, that there is nothing worse than a slightly detuned bass. The unfortunate song to have this fate was Monarchy of Roses off their latest album, “I’m with You”. However, tight and professional as always, the band powered through the song with gusto.
A few things became clear within the first 10 minutes of the 45 minute set. The first thing is the improvisation that’s always been a feature of the band: its clearly pretty spontaneous, though they set aside certain ‘segments’ for some tight riffing. This is made clear with all the bass solos here and there and a sharp little ditty of a Klinghoffer – Smith guitar-drum duet.
The second thing is that Flea is clearly the star of the show. Despite some technical difficulties initially and a less than optimal sound throughout the show, he danced, headbanged and soloed his way through the show with great energy and originality. You could see the showman come out, as he was the only member of the band to play to all parts of the stadium, while simultaneously interacting with his band members.
The setlist itself was not a surprising one, as it consisted mostly of the Peppers’ very reliable hit catalogue from the past 20 odd years, aside from the odd choice or two. I found myself clearly at odds with the rest of the crowd, as many of the songs that the crowd didn’t find that hot happened to be my favorites for that night. Cue a devastatingly funky rendition of “I Like Dirt”, which was one of the revelations of the night. Klinghoffer – who was seated because of a broken foot – managed a sweet solo. However, his effects laden guitar rig had some technical problems and at one time he had to change his guitar mid song. Otherwise, the songs were a reliable balance between Californication, By the Way, I’m with You and BloodSugar songs.
All in all, a good, tight and professional set. Some of the moves were familiar from other live performances, but the Peppers reminded everyone why they belong firmly in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. This sounds right.
– El Bajista