Red Hot Chili Peppers | 01.15.07

Their well-known hits—particularly "Californication," "Other Side," and "Give It Away"—were very enthusiastically received, and most of the crowd would have gladly stayed for more at the end of the night.

 

w/Gnarls Barkley
Scottrade Center, St. Louis

The 2007 winter tour of headliners the Red Hot Chili Peppers with opener Gnarls Barkley is an intriguing combination, as both bands have taken rock, soul, and funk roots and branched them in vastly different directions. Gnarls Barkley, with so far only 2006's smash album St Elsewhere behind them, combine Cee-Lo Green's emotive soul singing with the inspired chop-shop beats of producer Danger Mouse. Dressed in grey NASA jumpsuits and silver platform boots, and calling themselves "Area 69," the 12-member ensemble (including a four piece string section affectionately dubbed the "G-Strings") ripped through a tight, swinging 45-minute set on Monday night at St. Louis's Scottrade Center.

Their album St. Elsewhere is largely notable for two features: it is a strikingly modern exploration of rhythm and melody through a combination of soul, hip-hop, funk, and rock sources. It's also a concept album for having gone off the deep end. Or, to quote "Necromancing," "the production is progressive, but the reason is retro." Nothing illustrates this better than "Crazy." Absolutely ubiquitous throughout the year, dominating radio waves and other bands' setlists, it is, as Cee-Lo not immodestly declared, an instant classic. It resurrects soul while examining the darker places of the psyche. And you can dance to it.

Impressively, the live configuration of Gnarls Barkley stayed true to the treatments laid down on record. The varying beats on the album are particularly complex, but were very well adapted to the live setting by the drummer. The tight, infectious grooves laid down by the drummer, bassist, and Danger Mouse allowed Cee-Lo to explore his range; after some early muddiness in the mix his vocals were clear and piercing, and soared to the rafters of the auditorium. He also proved an engaging and appealing frontman, exhorting the crowd to rise and dance. Though only a handful heeded the call, the audience was vocal in their appreciation and clearly enjoyed themselves. After opening with a cover of "Space Oddity" by David Bowie, highlights of the set included the ripping "Go-Go Gadget Gospel," "The Last Time," and "Gone Daddy Gone," which Cee-Lo accurately announced as being turned up to 11. They tore through "Crazy," garnering the loudest ovation (and the most dancing), before closing with perhaps the best song of the night, a swinging, explosive "Smiley Faces."

After a roughly 30-minute set change, the Red Hot Chili Peppers took the stage. The Peppers have a considerably longer resume than Gnarls Barkley. Theirs is also a band format that seems somewhat more democratic, as each band member is crucial to the creation of the music. Flea's melodic, funk bass playing; John Frusciante's face-melting rock guitar; Will Ferrell's solid punk drumming (sorry…that's actually Chad Smith; he only looks exactly like Ferrell); and Anthony Kiedis's scat/rap singing: all are vital to the Peppers' sound.

Throughout the night they took several improvisation breaks, with Flea, Frusciante, and Smith exploring rhythms and riffs before transitioning into recognizable songs. Unfortunately, as opposed to making the music feel organic, these jams tended to slow things down. But the energy level was kept high enough with epileptic light displays and an inventive, moving quad-screen Jumbotron. Equally important were Kiedis' jumping spins with pop-and-lock arm moves and highly appropriate rock star grimaces by Flea and Frusciante. And of course, a hard-rocking set. They drew heavily on material from the 2006 double-album Stadium Arcadium. "Dani California" got the notably age-diverse crowd singing along, while "Snow (Hey Oh)" inspired several people to cease air-guitaring (or air-drumming) long enough to break out lighters (or illuminated cellphones). Their well-known hits—particularly "Californication," "Other Side," and "Give It Away"—were very enthusiastically received, and most of the crowd would have gladly stayed for more at the end of the night.

While Gnarls Barkley, demonstrably insane explorers of soul and rhythm, seem somewhat more modern and inventive, the music of the Chili Peppers, a loose, shaggy band with hard rock roots, is probably better suited for singing along in a packed auditorium. On a bitterly cold Monday night in St. Louis, both delivered the goods. | Brad Proctor

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