Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “The Getaway Tour” At Madison Square Garden, Thursday, February 15th, 2017, Reviewed
Of all the great arena rock bands most hated -the Coldplays and U2s and Soundgardens, least most hated is Red Hot Chili Pepper’s, junked up loser winners who crawl on their rhythm section and if you don’t like their rhythm section only on the rarest of occasions will the rest of the band pull you through. Last night at Madison Square Garden they performed two of their three great moments, plus unwrapped “Under The Bridge” for the first time on this tour promoting the unspeakably wretched The Getaway. The Red Hot Chili Peppers were, with the exception of Chad Smith, painful to look at: Lead singer Anthony Kiedis, who is to LA what Steve Bannon is to journalism, looks like a toxic mix of Ron Mael, Adolph Hitler, and the bloke in shorts from AC/DC… and dances worse than all three combined. Flea -who is seen to much better advantage in Atoms For Peace, looks like a cancer customer somewhere between remission and omission. New (well, since 2009) guitarist John Klinghoffer is a perpetually boyish weirdo with baggy sweats that make him look as though he suffers from incontinence. And Chad Smith is a good to great drummer who looks an awful lot like Will Ferrell: same man boy handsomeness offset by a godawful red jumpsuit. Visually held together by one of those de rigeur dancing lamps thingies descending from the ceiling (Pearl Jam had the same thing last time I saw em) , plus a light show and that’s about it, you have Red Hot chili Peppers 2017, the least of the most, best of the worst.
Evening opener, Trombone Shorty, is a talented guy from New Orleans with plenty of horns and tons of energy, though his material doesn’t equal his intensity level and he gets away with it through sweat. Still, a forty five minute set was way way way too much. he’d have killed at 25 minutes. Which left RHCP on stage at 915.Red Hot Chili Peppers depends so much on your take on the Chad and Flea show and my take is I am not impressed. The band opens the evening with a ten minute jam and jam bands are not my scene and I have tried, mostly out of affection for The Allman Brothers. Flea can play bass, he is all finger picking shards of metallic darts though compare him to Larry Graham and you can see what he knows about funk, and what he has no clue: too busy on the top he forces Chad to do the heavy lifting. Chad can pound em like a sonofabitch and he holds the band in the palm of his hand -he is the centrifugal force and the best thing there. The new kid guitarist is also ignoring any semblance of melodic lines for atonal steel ball bearings and the entire sound combined is in one word or less unpleasant. It is a relief when Kiedis shows up with the pretty good “Can’t Stop” off their second best album. At first the thrill of the new is enough to carry the concert and at second it neither looks right nor sound right. They are like ghouls who have been tearing up at a Disco Biscuits reunion, Anthony screeches when he should be power driving you, everything is over the top without the power of funk or the power of calm, and his voice is a steady whine: every song sounds the same because every song whines the same. He can’t really dance and he is old enough to have to stop moving and take a breather quite often.
At some point you have to wonder how RHCP ever managed to write “Californication”. They play it around the midway point of the set and it isn’t much of a performance but who cares because it is so a clever and gutsy, it’s so great they named a TV show after it, I mean an HBO one. “Californication” is one of the top songs ever written about Hollywood, and its business, sex and life as lived in a land that seems dusty and paled over and moves on its stomach and then lives on its back. Not just the “earthquakes are to a girl’s guitar, they’re just another good vibration,” or ” Space may be the final frontier but it’s made in a Hollywood basement,” or punchline to beat all punchlines “It’s understood that Hollywood sells Californication” but the united vision of Cali like it dropped out of a Bret Easton Ellis novel, or rather invented Bret Easton Ellis. Last time I was in LA, playing billiards among the music expats at Barney’s Beanery, I could feel the tug and seduction of the city. It is a tug that this song absolutely gets, you can hear it like a floating world above the earth as the below rumbles and the currency of youth and fame is distilled beyond relief or understanding as anything human at all. As brilliant as the sound of West Coast dreaming, it is their masterpiece. They have come close again, “This Is The Place” is one of the best songs ever written not about heroine but about addicts: “This is the place where all the junkies go where time gets fast but everything gets slow…” a better description of a downer I can’t imagine. The song starts slow but it builds like a speedball to a denouement that, like, how the hell did they do this?
“I am a misfit
I’m born with all of it
The fucking ultimate
Of love inside the atom split
I’m in a flash ray
A mash of DNA
Another poppin’ Jay
Who thinks he’s got
Something to say”
RHCP don’t play this one any more, they are too busy trying to sell us on “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie ” and “Sick Love” -it is weak gruel and these guys just can’t sell it hard enough, the material doesn’t stand up to even straight up plus jam sounds: Kiedis is anti-charismatic and while I admire their straight up no chaser group aesthetic (one other guy adding percussion and another programming the Pro Tools: “Did you throw Oakley out?” Kiedis cracked. “We love Oakley.”). It is the real deal, professional and while not enthused, not disenchanted either. You’ve seen a million better shows and a million worse ones as well, it is hard to imagine anybody claiming that RHCP is their favorite band, much easier to agree with Nick Cave who once said “‘I’m forever near a stereo saying, ‘What the fuck is this garbage?’ And the answer is always the Red Hot Chili Peppers.” Hard to deny and I actively dislike them anyway, but here and there I really love a song and they do their job as well as they can given they are Red Hot Chili Peppers. I mean, if they were different people playing different songs I would have quite enjoyed it.