Red Hot Chili Peppers | Irving Plaza, New York City | 05.18.06

Anthony Kiedis remains as charismatic as ever, but when the music takes over, he’s simply another fan. When he wasn’t laying to rhyme or their rolling chorus melodies, he jumped, spun, and danced like a can of jumping beans.

 

 

After By the Way’s disappointing sales (a paltry two million), Warner Brothers seems to be in a quandary for how to promote their flagship rock band. From the dress-up video for “Dani California” to the knucklehead press shot of the band wearing football helmets, Red Hot Chili Peppers seem poised for rebirth as the premiere lunchbox rock band of their time. But at their sweepstakes-only showcase at New York City’s Irving Plaza, the band launched Stadium Arcadium into the public in their most compelling way: free of image and pretension.

The unadorned guitar prelude to “Can’t Stop” ended an hour of anticipation, launching the crowd into a frenzy that fueled the scorching 100-minute set. “Can’t Stop” segued into “Charlie,” a new proto-funk track with a punchy pop chorus that comprised the first of five new songs, including the current radio hit “Dani California.” For skeptics of the single, the band transformed “Dani” from a perky pop nugget into a pummeling arena rocker by kicking up the gain on its ripping power-chord chorus. “Scar Tissue” and “Right on Time” provided expected thrills, while purists got a kick from the long-dormant “Me and My Friends.” But if there were a highlight from the new material, it would have to be “”21st Century,” with its London Calling–style groove and spacious interludes to the band’s superb instrumental fills.

Fans have long been overtaken by the band’s eclectic sense of style and musical interdependence, but what truly transforms the band live is their white-hot energy. Anthony Kiedis remains as charismatic as ever, but when the music takes over, he’s simply another fan. When he wasn’t laying to rhyme or their rolling chorus melodies, he jumped, spun, and danced like a can of jumping beans. Flea uses his entire body as a conduit for the band’s funky rhythms and alt-rock grooves, also making for a first-rate performer. But in concert, drummer Chad Smith becomes the member that most essentially anchors the band’s all-purpose syncopated style through hits ranging from ‘Throw Away Your Television” to “Give It Away.” And guitar-hero John Frusciante is simply one of the most innovative and creative musicians in rock today. Where he first emerged as a cut-loose prodigy, his more recent work foregoes flashy histrionics in favor of tone and melody. In concert he imbues the songs with a mix of both, nowhere more evident during the show than his blistering solo during “Don’t Forget Me.”

In true maverick fashion, the band extended the musical climax of the encore showstopper “Give It Away” with a 15-minute jam, as they were joined onstage by guitarist Omar Rodriguez of Mars Volta. Flea and Chad provided a sturdy base for John and Omar’s dueling harmonics and free-jazz overtures, illuminating the members’ true musical DNA. The crowd ate it up, and with nothing left to do, the frontman walked to the side of the stage, dropped his jaw, and took it all in. Within that moment, never was our identification with the band stronger.

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