The Peppers sizzle, but not for long

The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Spark Arena Auckland, March 8

They were kick-ass, sharp, and bursting with energy. They were also rather brief. At one hour and fifteen minutes for the main set, and perhaps another fifteen or so for the encore, this was probably the shortest major concert Steve and I have seen in the three years we’ve been working on Crave.

That’s not to decry the quality of the show. Flea, Anthony Kiedis, Chad Smith and Josh Klinghoffer played hard out, danced hard out, and kept the big crowd at Spark Arena on their feet and in full voice. You couldn’t help but be impressed with the commitment and urgency on display. There was little in the way of banter with the audience. A quick reference to rugby, and one or two other remarks (which I have to say I struggled to make out) were about your lot. The songs moved along, for the most part, at full pace.

The two original Peppers are the focus of the stage show. Flea truly does drive the band, his bass guitar leading the melody as well as the beat of the songs, and this, together with his jumping, swaying, almost hypnotic presence on stage makes it feel as if he is the leader of the band, or its co-captain at least.  He’s about as far removed from an impassive bass player like a Bill Wyman or a Jon Entwistle as you could get.

Singer Anthony Kiedis brought plenty of attitude to his work. Of course he stripped to his waist, revealing an impressively chiselled 56 year old tattooed torso. He too danced aplenty – part prance, part fall with (at least to me) an occasional hint of a haka stance to his movements. His voice was strong, although perhaps not as tuneful as I recall from records. Drummer Smith and guitarist Klinghoffer also left plenty of sweat on the floor. The Peppers are famously a four piece but they at times joined by two keyboard players, and in one song, an extra rhythm guitarist.

So, to the music. When you see and hear the Peppers live, you really appreciate how funk- driven their sound is. Yes there’s rap and jazz and rock in the mix, but it wasn’t for nothing they called out James Brown in an in-between song chit chat. This was no better illustrated than in their cover of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground. Flea’s power slap on that bass gives you funk to dine out on, and then some.

The crowd got some of the hits it wanted: Scar Tissue, Californication, and By The Way, among others. But a few of the big songs were absent. No Dani California, no Otherside, no Around the World, and most notably, no Under the Bridge. Maybe the band just needs to give these songs a rest now and then. Fair enough for them, but I got the feeling the audience wanted to hear more of those well known numbers – hear them, and sing along with them. As far as you can read a crowd (admittedly a dangerous game) you got the feeling that yes, they liked what they got, but they’d have liked more. Kiedis told them near the end “Auckland we don’t take you for granted and we love you.” Flea also went out of his way to thank the crowd, and at the end of the encore Smith spent several minutes tossing drum sticks out into the audience, also thanking them profusely, and inviting them to come back for the second night. Not sure if that’ll be a longer show, but it’s a fair bet the set list will change quite a bit.

Photos: Steve McCabe for Crave!

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