Sweet sacred bliss: RHCP live in Greensboro

by Ryan Snyder

There’s got to be a moment for every thirtysomething seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers live when they realize they’re involuntarily channeling the Anthony Kiedis hand jive from the “Give It Away” video. Twenty years later, days, sometimes weeks spent trolling MTV every day after school to mirror his freaky styley while waiting for the initial Columbia House shipment containing Blood Sugar Sex Magik to arrive created the kind of muscle memory that not even their latest lukewarm studio effort can eradicate. The Red Hot Chili Peppers were a force then, a band whose vitality was just as pronounced as their musicality. Even with most of the core group pushing 50 years old, the live exploits from their show at the Greensboro Coliseum on Monday night point to a band that hasn’t really grown up, so neither has that faction of their audience.

Given, the band that once had their front man sporting only a sock over his member on the cover of Rolling Stone might not exist anymore, but the vitality of the Red Hot Chili Peppers will always lay pale the next band of their age in comparison, even when their new music ceases to appeal to old fans. Take Flea, the band’s ever-present coil of energy, super-high-kicking on the downbeat to “Suck My Kiss,” and walking across stage on his hands as percussionist Mauro Refosco and drummer Chad Smith threw down during the encore jam. Or Kiedis, who mostly deferred to Flea for public-address situations, twirling blindly around the stage, as if determined to flaunt the integrity of the previously broken foot that canceled the original January date. They’re a pretty fit pair for their age and history, but if the loudness of their set were the only criteria employed, their volume on most songs could have rivaled that of Dinosaur, Jr. playing a room one-tenth the size.

Set to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this Saturday, the day after founding guitarist Hillel Slovak would have turned 50, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have always been, and will always likely be, a band that amplifies the energy of their crowd. That fact was presented with momentary cause for concern as opener Santigold’s set was executed before a crowd of inconsolable numbers. By the time the house lights dropped and the headliners engaged the taught disco thump of “Monarchy of Roses,” the Monday night crowd had swelled to around 10,000. The strong crowd didn’t go unnoticed by the band, impressing Flea who noted the band’s manager predicted a poor turnout.

The set list itself was mostly agreeable for both sides of their fandom. The lack of sophistication in Stadium Arcadium numbers “Strip My Mind” and “Dani Califorina” were shielded by the band’s improvisational crunch, the latter seeing new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer upping the twang on the main riff ever closer to sounding like Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” The pre-celebrity songs were slightly underrepresented in favor of the I’m With You push, with One Hot Minute and Freaky Styley forgotten altogether, though the breezy thrash of “Me & My Friends” buttressed by Flea attempting to play Funkadelic’s “March to the Witch’s Castle” almost made up for the dearth of semi-obscure oldies.

It was fairly obvious from their manic reactions, however, that the bulk of the crowd wanted to hear BSSM, or Californication and Mother’s Milk to a lesser extent, whether it was the ultra-subdued “Under the Bridge” or the building-shaking sex groove “Suck My Kiss.” Their treatments of the older hits acknowledged that, where they played their joker cards. “Around the World” was introduced by Flea riffing on “Dazed and Confused,” and later disguising their cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” with some bass line chicken pickin’ while rapping about taking home a Carolina wife. There was no doubt quite a few candidates in the room who were happy to oblige.