The Red Hot Chili Peppers, now in their 30th year as a band and fresh off induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, no longer seem all that outrageous. During Thursday’s show at a packed Verizon Center, for example, socks covered feet, rather than naughty bits.
There were some hints of the Los Angeles-born quartet’s crazy old ways, however. Vocalist Anthony Kiedis’s wardrobe, featuring a ratty trucker’s cap and pants with one short leg and one long, had him looking like a spokesmodel for the Gap’s Rodeo Clown Collection. Throw in his fellow tattoo hoarders — bassist Flea and drummer Chad Smith — and this is a band with as much old ink as the Dead Sea Scrolls. And during “Can’t Stop,” Flea executed an impressive forward flip while wearing his bass, a move that kid rockers should under no circumstances attempt in the garage.
The novelty of the Peppers’ music has diminished over time. But that’s mainly because so many younger acts have attempted to be the Peppers and copied the funkish and punkish brand of pop these guys perfected so many years ago. The nearly two-hour show began and ended with extended instrumental jams, allowing Flea and Smith to showcase the virtuosity that’s not obvious in all those rock radio hits. Current guitarist Josh Klinghoffer spent much of the jam sessions on his knees in front of the drum kit, bobbing manically; his fretboard shredding, alas, was bludgeoned into unintelligibility by the rhythm section in the sound mix.
In this arena setting, the ballads and melodic rockers from the Peppers’ oeuvre worked better than the hyper-noodling. Thousands of mostly female voices kept Kiedis (who appeared to be having ear-monitor issues all night long) in key during the anthemic chorus of “Dani California” and throughout the 1992 druggie chronicle, “Under the Bridge.”
The show’s peak came with a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” a marvelous melding of melody, rhythm and technique. The tune also provided the night’s only moments in which the fans exhibited as much energy as the band.
McKenna is a freelance writer.