Say this unequivocally for Red Hot Chili Peppers: They still pack ’em in. If you thought their closing set Sunday night (Sept. 17) at Meadows might be a little light in attendance — school night, older band, no guests or real surprises likely — you were sorely mistaken, as throngs of fans of all ages crammed in to the main stage area to witness the band’s singular brand of blood-sugar-sex-magik.
Those fans got a strong 90 minutes of hits and new favorites, though it probably wouldn’t be a performance the band themselves would choose for first-timers. Some cues were mistimed, some rhythms felt slightly off, and bassist Flea in particular was plagued with technical issues — at one point comparing the hiss in his earpiece to “sandpaper scraped on my brain by Satan.” The band still committed with total physicality — the day RHCP no longer romp on stage with the best of them will be a sad one indeed — but the energy was, at least by their high standards, a little muted.
Nonetheless, the band captivated even through their struggles. The 90-minute cap (and the band still being on the promotional cycle for 2016’s The Getaway LP) meant that the set list left a good number of favorites on the table, but certainly no gig that begins with an opening trio of “Can’t Stop,” “Dani California” and “Scar Tissue” can be faulted for shirking on the hits. Some of the newer tracks and deeper cuts shined in their live explorations, including the sauntering “Sick Love,” and “Goodbye Angels,” the band’s fourth and most recent Getaway single, a shapeshifting groover that earned its place in the band’s encore.
The presence of Josh Klinghoffer as the Peppers’ guitarist — having replaced John Frusciante upon the latter’s quitting at decade’s beginning — continues to add an interesting element to the group. Wearing an oversized t-shirt, with his eyes perpetually hidden behind his hair, he looks more like a ’90s rock star than the three other members (who actually spent the ’90s as rock stars), and his shredding has a thicker, J. Mascis-like growl than Frusciante’s airy meditations. It’s a little less delicate, which occasionally robbed some of the Californication-era leads of their elegance, but his heroics also gave “Aeroplane” a muscle it previously lacked, and turned By the Way deep cut “Don’t Forget Me” into one of the night’s epic highlights.
Given the younger-skewing crowd, it was unsurprising that the band kept it light on early material: “Higher Ground,” their breakout Stevie Wonder cover, was the sole representative of the band’s punk-funk ’80s fare, and even 1991’s 7x platinum Blood Sugar Sex Magik got just a pair of inclusions. Still, it was a little stunning just how much that album’s “Under the Bridge” resounded — a full quarter-century after having peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 — with seemingly the entire thousands-strong crowd singing along to every word. Klinghoffer introduced the song by riffing a little on The Beatles’ “In My Life,” and it’s pretty clear now that “Under the Bridge” will endure as that song has: a ballad of undeniable, inescapable humanity, real and powerful enough to transcend genre and generation.
After “Goodbye Angels” and the final of the band’s many funk-jam interludes — ably demonstrating about how the band is still really all about chemistry at its core — the group closed with the night’s other Blood Sugar classic, the party-starting rave-up “Give It Away.” The song has hardly aged as gracefully as “Under the Bridge,” but remains so quintessentially RHCP in its gonzo goofiness that it’s hard to have anything but affection for it. And even on a night where things aren’t totally going their way, the Peppers’ enthusiasm as a force for musical positivity remains infectious. Flea even made the message explicit in his parting remarks: “Be kind to each other. Good night.”
Dani California (with Chad Smith drum solo)
I Wanna Be Your Dog (The Stooges Cover) / Right on Time
What Is Soul? (Funkadelic cover)
Don’t Forget Me
Jam Break / Sick Love
Under the Bridge (with “In My Life” intro)
By the Way
Give It Away