Not Just For Dads: Red Hot Chili Peppers at Toyota Center
It’s a small miracle Red Hot Chili Peppers are still around. While borne as a party funk band in Los Angeles in the early ‘80s, their rise to fame is synonymous and associated with the wave of ‘90s grunge and post-grunge acts that infiltrated the mainstream. Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots — all tragic losses of life to be sure, all RHCP-adjacent in some way or another. Billy Corgan slowly became a mess at this point, a guy who speaks earnestly with conservative nutjob Alex Jones to complain about “the hashtag generation” and sputter ill-advised anti-political correctness nonsense. Eddie Vedder is around, but his presence and influence on the current culture feels inconsequential — it’s stuff for dads (including dad-in-chief Barack Obama). RHCP’s unfortunate legacy includes influencing nu-metal and rap-rock, probably the worst genres of all time — their dubious lineage includes Incubus and Limp Bizkit. But here they are, 30 years into their careers, and still releasing albums, which don’t infiltrate the public consciousness like they once did, but are far from embarrassing and infrequent enough that each new record is still an occasion for fans. Put it this way: offered a chance to see any of the living artists either influenced by or contemporaries of RHCP, I’d pass without thinking twice. But given the chance to see them, why not? Why pass up a chance to hear “Scar Tissue” live?
In person, Anthony Kiedis resembles an action figure, a sturdy, shirtless 54-year-old man with boundless energy who appears to have no body fat, with socks rolled up past the knee underneath short black shorts, navigating the stage with tremendous presence and the confidence of a road-tested veteran. He’s impossible to take your eyes off of, even when Flea in full rockstar regalia is doing handstands during an impromptu drum solo from Chad Smith.
They “still got it,” whether it’s star quality, chops, or a desire to perform onstage. They haven’t lost a step, perhaps injected with new blood from guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, who officially joined the band in 2009 after John Frusciante’s departure. Instead of a predictable show where the band frontloads their set with the hits, they stacked a good number of songs from their most recent record, 2016’s The Getaway, and dipped into 2011’s I’m With You, too. I was surprised by how vital the songs I didn’t recognize sounded. They own a pop-funk-rock lane, imbued with an ear for melody and hooks, that, despite the bloated Stadium Arcadium and the hit-or-miss quality of their last two records, yields a few good songs every few years. Red Hot Chili Peppers are many things, but cynical is not one of them.
Sure enough, the songs you do know sound great: “Scar Tissue,” with its classic, wistful Frusciante guitar melody; the nervy, goofy “Californication” (whose video is still cool, by the way); even “Aeroplane,” from their often-dissed One Hot Minute album, translated vividly live, with its huge anthemic hook and slap-bass verses, a precursor to 2002’s excellent “By the Way,” one of their best singles. (Note: Flea is the only white dude allowed to play slap-bass. Anyone else should have their fingers broken.)
Long outside the oppressive nu-metal shadow, and away from the hokey socks-on-dicks public appearances, it’s refreshing to reevaluate RHCP: they’re a great singles band, a pretty good album band, Kiedis isn’t the best lyricist but he doesn’t have to be — his sometimes cumbersome attempts at poeticism are as much a part of the band’s DNA as Flea’s antics and the older-brother presence of drummer Smith. The songs that have cracked the modern-rock canon, like “Otherside” and “Under the Bridge,” persist because they tap into a universal teenage/young adult mind frame. “I don’t ever wanna feel like I did that day” is as iconic as “here we are now, entertain us” or “today is the greatest day I’ve ever known,” except RHCP have yet to be elevated to critical canon for a number of reasons that will matter less the further we get away from the late ‘90s.
Amidst a truly diverse crowd (across race/sex/age lines), Flea took a moment to address the audience: he urged parents to teach their children an instrument, inspire their kids to be artists, writers, musicians, creatives, and to embrace a loving culture. The band behind “The Power of Equality” would cosign such a positive, #based attitude, and it was a nice reminder that these guys speak to generations of listeners. The first song of the encore was Klinghoffer singing the Glen Campbell staple “Galveston,” a bit of local fan service; and later, drummer Chad Smith, after having thrown his drum sticks into the crowd, approached the microphone to tell the audience they were beautiful in a way that felt sincerely spur-of-the-moment, considering it was after Kiedis and the rest of the group had left the stage. This canonical, arguably uncool band has persevered through a simple M.O. — keep crowds happy.