It was a keyed up crowd that showed up Saturday night for Red Hot Chili Peppers’ first visit to Vancouver in six years. Beefed up young men wandered the floor of Roger’s Arena sporting the band’s initials painted on their bare chests, perhaps wondering whether the Peppers would recover from their absence from the public eye and a change in guitarists.
Whatever fears might have been in the air were quickly forgotten when frontman Anthony Kiedis appeared for a raucous rendition of the moody Monarchy of Roses from the band’s most recent album, I’m With You. Kiedis, looking a little bit Frankie Goes to Hollywood with his moustache and dark bangs swooped forward, was all bouncing bravado and high kicks as impressive as they have ever been.
Well-rested from their hiatus and travelling with a solid lineup, the band seems more comfortable in its shoes than ever. The setlist for the evening basically followed the pattern set out on previous dates of the tour. The foursome pounded through RHCP hits like Scar Tissue and Californication.
Unlike in their previous Stadium Arcadium tour, the focus seemed to be on pleasing the generations of fans that have been following them since they broke through internationally with 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik. There was little stage banter but it didn’t seem necessary with the lineup of instantly recognizable classics. The packed arena even got their chance to take over for the backup choir on Under the Bridge.
At 50, bassist Flea doesn’t seem to have lost much steam. Always the free spirit, he pranced around stage like a distracted little boy, wandering over to rock out for the crowd stage right then tripping back for his long line of solos, while somehow never missing a beat.
That childlike quality is a trademark of RHCP. It accounts for the band’s bizarre lyrics and general lack of subtlety. In their most misguided moments, when perfectly good melodies disintegrate into sugar-rush bass solos, it can make them outright silly. But it also makes them incredibly fun to watch.
Drummer Chad Smith was precision backup, crashing through drum solos with the help of tour drummer Mauro Refosco and Chris Warren on Keys. The extra musicians added layers and complexity to the sound that may be the real mark of the band’s maturity. They even pulled up a trumpet at one point.
The newest addition to the roster, guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, might be almost 20 years younger than his fellow Chili Peppers, but he seems to have been fitting in since replacing the band’s longtime off-an-on guitarist John Frusciante. Saturday night he looked both grateful to be where he was and out to prove that he deserved the spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that he accepted alongside his bandmates this spring. He really got a chance to prove his worth on a blistering jam with Flea during Look Around from the most recent album, which Klinghoffer co-wrote.
The main set ended on an aggressive note with By the Way, featuring Kiedis singing into a vocoder during the hopped up, nonsensical but weirdly catchy chorus.
For the encore, the audience was treated to an extended drum jam between Klinghoffer and Refosco on bongos. A muscle-bound Smith joined by being lowered onto the stage hanging from a massive lighting fixture. Then the rest of the band returned for three tracks from Blood Sugar Sex Magik, ending with the Kiedis rapping frenetically for a thrilled crowd to Give It Away.
In the almost 30 years since the band first formed, RHCP has become a reliable stage act with an impressive work ethic and a respect for their own history.