It’s been twelve years since Australia last saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers play a headline show. So much has happened in that time: huge festivals have come and gone, lockout laws have been introduced, and the internet has completely transformed the way we behave at gigs. But at Qudos Bank Arena last night it was clear that, although time has passed, our love for the Chili Peppers hasn’t changed.
Funk legend George Clinton opened the show with his band Parliament Funkadelic. While their peak may have been in the 1970s, their influence on other bands has been prolific. Clinton helped produce Red Hot Chili Pepper’s second album so the connection between the two acts run deep, and this was made clear by Chili Peppers throughout their set. Bassist Flea made a religious comparison to convey his appreciation for Clinton and co: “If you were growing up and you liked the bible, that’s what Funkadelic is to me.”
Despite this, however, time has clearly taken its toll on Clinton. At 78, he spent large parts of the set sitting down. It was easy to forget he was the frontman, given that there were so many people on stage each doing different things. At one point there were seventeen people on stage – if you include the three men sitting on a couch to the side of the band, and two more seemingly just there to dance. The set was largely carried by the younger members of the band, some of whom looked to be less than half Clinton’s age. A guitarist with rainbow dreadlocks was a standout, purely because of his impressive ability to whip his hair around without missing a beat. Overall, though, it was a case of quantity not necessarily equalling quality. Crowd engagement was low, and most of the audience were still milling about in the foyer. The highlights of the set were the tracks everyone knows, like ‘Give Up The Funk’ and ‘Get Up For The Downstroke’. The performance grew on me as they went on, but really it wasn’t the best part of the night. At this point, Clinton’s set is one that most of us can respect, but not necessarily relish.
Red Hot Chili Peppers began their set with a brass solo that had the crowd nervously awaiting their arrival. Flea, guitarist Josh Klinghoffer and drummer Chad Smith ran onstage first, engaging in an instrumental battle between funky basslines and crashing drums. It set the tone for the rest of the set, which was full of drawn-out solos that kept us on our toes before we were treated to the classics. There was a deafening roar as vocalist Anthony Kiedis strutted on stage, still every bit the rockstar. The band launched straight into ‘Can’t Stop’, a clear message about what was to come. For nearly two hours the band played a mix of older fan favourites and newer songs.
It was interesting to see the band’s individual quirks on stage. While Kiedis is typically seen as the frontman, it was Flea that shone through. He was the main spokesperson for the band, guiding the crowd through the intervals between songs. He covered a wide range of topics, from the band’s appreciation of Clinton agreeing to be the support, to KISS and whether Smith was a true fan or not. His energy during songs was enthralling; sometimes he was repeatedly jumping in the air, while at other points he looked like he was playing an imaginary game of Dance Dance Revolution. In a world where bassists are often overlooked, Flea is leading the charge to make them cool.
Smith has his own way of getting the crowd on his side. During ‘Go Robot’ he threw at least three drumsticks into the audience, never missing a beat as he pulled new sticks seemingly from thin air. Drumsticks must take up a huge amount of the band’s budget, because in total I counted about fifteen thrown off stage by the end of the show. He might have been at the back, but Smith made sure he was the centre of attention. Some impressive drum solos also showed that he was more than just a crowd-pleaser.
Relative newbie Klinghoffer shouldn’t have to prove himself to fans anymore, but if anyone had any doubts his performance would have vanquished them. While he wasn’t in the spotlight for most of the set, he provided key parts to the show. His vocals were strong, offsetting Kiedis’ iconic style with some falsetto harmonisation and his own verses. Some of the best moments of the night came when he and Flea riffed against each other, locked in fierce competition. He may not have stood out on stage, but he was an important part of the team.
Kiedis was the most eclectic of the bunch. Dressed like a suburban dad at a barbeque, his dance moves were taken from a twenty-year-old boy at a party. There was skipping, sidestepping and shimmying. He punched the air in time with Klinghoffer’s chords, and danced up on Flea as he jammed. Vocally he put on a well-polished show, and it was clear at points he was almost just going through the motions. He dragged the mic stand around on stage, preferring to rely on it rather than hold the mic. He gave the crowd what they wanted, though, and at the end of the day tracks like ‘Californication’ and ‘Give It Away’ pretty much carry themselves.
After more than 30 years of performing, they have fine-tuned their show to an almost-perfect point. The set was packed with songs that would please both casual fans and diehard followers. Individually, they all brought something unique to the stage, and as a group, they’re like clockwork. The rock scene of the 1980s that they cut their teeth in may be long gone, but last night proved that Red Hot Chili Peppers are still alive and kicking.