MUSIC

The Red Hot Chili Peppers didn't quite have their act together on Thursday at Verizon Center.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers didn't quite have their act together on Thursday at Verizon Center. (By Gus Van Sant)

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Red Hot Chili Peppers

It's clear that after 23 years together -- with varying lineups -- the Red Hot Chili Peppers have honed their ability to write radio-friendly, mid-tempo pop songs. As expected, those dominated their nearly two-hour set on Thursday night at Verizon Center. The surprise lay in the unpolished feel of the performance: Most songs were delayed by long pauses, and at mid-set guitarist John Frusciante delivered a momentum-shattering, solo acoustic cover of Cat Stevens's "How Can I Tell You."

Once the group actually settled into any of its own songs, though, its musical prowess shone through, including Frusciante's blazing guitar solos and Anthony Kiedis's throaty, balloon-like vocals ("Hey," "Scar Tissue"). Most striking were Michael "Flea" Balzary's rapid-fire bass lines, from his fast finger work on "Nobody Weird Like Me" to his guitar-like strumming on "Don't Forget Me." But even such obvious talent couldn't counterbalance the show's disjointed feel: A number of captivating instrumental jams found Frusciante and Balzary facing each other at mid-stage, hunched over their instruments and oblivious to the audience, as if in the midst of a rehearsal.

By contrast, opener Gnarls Barkley presented a tight, 40-minute set propelled by Cee-Lo Green's big, booming voice and Danger Mouse's electronics wizardry. The duo (and its backing band, string section and supporting singers) remained energetic despite the crowd's lethargy. Predictably, the audience perked up for their smash single "Crazy," perhaps foreshadowing the group's undeserved destiny as a one-hit wonder.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

Doc Severinsen and NSO Pops

What is Doc Severinsen's secret? With his 80th birthday coming up in July, the legendary bandleader is still touring, still blowing a mean trumpet and still sporting the wildest wardrobe this side of Liberace. And, as he showed on Thursday in a performance of Duke Ellington's music with the National Symphony Orchestra Pops, he's still having a blast doing all of it.

"We're going to see if the Duke's music and the textures of classical music go together," Severinsen told the packed house at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, leading the orchestra through some of Ellington's best-loved tunes, from sultry ballads like "I Got It Bad (and That Ain't Good)" to the jungle rhythms of "The Mooche" and the funky, Cuban-inflected "Caravan."

And the results were spectacular. Resplendent in a sparkling jacket and purple leather pants, Severinsen commanded the stage with his customary showmanship, bantering with the audience, drawing a fine, sharp-edged performance from the orchestra and mixing things up with jazzy, well-placed flourishes from his trumpet. His sound is still amazing, and though his wind isn't quite what it used to be, it's hard to complain. After all, he's still performing at an age when most of us can only hope to be drawing breath at all -- let alone wearing leather pants.

Vocalist Carmen Bradford joined the orchestra for a number of songs; her velvety voice and elegant phrasing were perfect for Ellington's music. And saxophonist Chris Vidala, after a slow start, was turning in blistering solos by the end of the evening. But the real high point of the program was Severinsen's long, introspective solo in "Lush Life" -- as powerful and achingly beautiful as anything you could hope to hear, and definitely not to be missed.

The program repeats tonight at 8.

-- Stephen Brookes


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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