On the 15th December 2016 I saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the Manchester Arena. They were absolutely fantastic, but it was probably for the last time.
Few bands have maintained the longevity of the Red Hot Chili Peppers who boast twenty-five years of mainstream success as well as almost a decade prior of underground notoriety. Over the years their sound has changed as much as their line-up, allowing them to amass a back catalogue that offers something for everyone. This makes them arguably the most universally enjoyed band working today.
Their last album, I’m With You (2011) and current release, The Getaway (2016) haven’t fared as well as previous successes, clearly lacking core elements: ex-guitarist and primary song-writer, John Frusciante who departed in 2009 to be replaced by Josh Klinghoffer and producer-powerhouse Rick Rubin. Surprisingly, no songs were played from I’m With You whatsoever and those off The Getaway felt obligatory for all but Klinghoffer who, when breaking free from his Frusciante tribute act, shined on the material he had a hand in creating. Unfortunately, his predecessor’s shoes simply can not and will not be filled by anybody living today. Although, within the the Chili Peppers behemoth, his awkward out-of-placeness brings a welcome vulnerability and authenticity to the machine-like quartet, especially as he attempts to replicate Frusciante’s haunting backing falsettos.
Songs from the newest album were, with the exception of standout track Go Robot, the most indifferently received and for that matter, the most indifferently played. Delivered obligatorily as the crowd patiently endured. Songs like Dreams of a Samurai and The Getaway’s titular track lacked the hooks and singalong choruses that made the band famous. The crowd would have had absolutely no response to the new songs had the album not been very cleverly given away with each gig ticket.
Whilst I’m With You and Stadium Arcadium (2006) relish in simplicity, the newest songs require an extra two, sometimes three musicians on stage and when you’ve paid £60 to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers it is hard to get excited about Session Musician#3. This inevitably dilutes and drowns out the actual band who have clearly sacrificed this simplicity in order to keep current, incorporating electronic elements and extra percussion. This, on the album, comes across as overproduced and, live, distracts from the rest of the band. Except for one Chad Smith. His thunderous beats really are the spine of the band; on hit songs his powerful energy seems to push his band mates further and further, getting the very most out of them. Then he brings it down in the jams, mathematically tying everything together.
The Red Hot Chili Pepper’s long time USP has been their improvisational nature and even though the set list claims only an introductory jam, near every song ends with an improvised segment. This has its pros and cons. When it works it gets under your skin, making your experience feel like something completely individual and therefore special. When it doesn’t, which was a noticeable few times, it is awkward and jarring. Occasionally they did trip over each other, especially eternal man-boy, lead singer Anthony Kiedis cutting off newcomer Josh Klinghoffer. He would sing over the guitarist as he initiated a solo or repeat a chorus as the rest of the band were ready to go back into a verse. Kiedis also dropped the ball by forgetting his lyrics a couple of times. On If You Have To Ask and on Give It Away, the latter of which closed the entire show. This did, however, make me feel better about embarrassingly forgetting If You Have To Ask’s lyrics myself when covering the song with a band as a teenager.
Of note was the light show: a thousand or more luminous tubes of light suspended on hydraulic wires above and far into to crowd, unlike anything I’ve seen before. Throughout, they added a motional dimension to the show. By dropping down and raising at the right times they made the bigger songs feel bigger whilst coming down like a ceiling to make the softer songs more intimate; also alternating up and down, creating wave like effects on the spacier tracks like Give It Away.
The set was for the most part energetic and crowd-pleasing with a nice dose of relatively more obscure hits such as Suck My Kiss and Right On Time, all in all covering just over ninety minutes. As much as I’d have liked it to be longer, I didn’t expect any more than I got. The classics sounded as good as ever and the new singles are what they are: long obligatory and out of place but counterbalanced by gems such as Josh Klinghoffer’s gorgeous cover of Ewan MacColl’s Dirty Old Town leading into Under the Bridge.
A lingering issue, due to its placing in the setlist, was the encore. The closing song was always going to be Give It Away but the second to last was Dreams of a Samurai, the bloated final song on The Getaway. After the faux end of the show the band came back to play the slow newcomer to which the audience could only passively nod along. An encore should generate that final burst of energy and give the audience what they’re going to go home remembering, not be something that neither the band nor the audience are interested in experiencing. The number of Chili Pepper songs that could have taken that penultimate spot and ramped up the audience for Give It Away is beyond count.
The support act, Japanese metal-pop band Baby Metal, went down a treat. I was fortunate enough to see them at Download Festival a few years back so knew what I was in for. The rest of the crowd not so much. Baby Metal, musically, are as heavy as it gets… the difference between them and other metal bands is that instead of being fronted by a growling beardy bloke, they’re fronted by three Japanese girls. Mixing the ultra-choreographed girl band with the death metal backing band allows metal to be sold to the mainstream, as a novelty. Although bewildered at first, the majority of the crowd were definitely won over by the end of their set. Whilst they do speak to the Chili Peppers’ trademark eccentricity, the real reason for their presence on the tour is probably much more cash orientated.
I thoroughly enjoyed this gig. It was, however, a bittersweet realization that the Red Hot Chili Peppers have crossed over into nostalgia act territory. Their first album did, to be fair, come out thirty two years ago so they’ve more than earned the right to rest on their laurels.
Man, I miss John Frusciante.
Right on Time
If You Have to Ask
Suck My Kiss
Dirty Old Town
Under the Bridge
By the Way
Dreams of a Samurai
Give It Away