Chili Peppers Return to Tower City

June 9th, 2012  |  Published in Featured

By Pete Roche

Saturday night’s performance by the Red Hot Chili Peppers at Quicken Loans Arena marked the third time the band rocked Cleveland in two months.

The L.A.funk quartet jammed into the wee hours following their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame here on April 14th.  Then they played a short but intimate show at House of Blues the next day to help kickoff President Obama’s reelection campaign.

Their return to the North Coast on June 2nd featured a full-length concert in support of their tenth studio album, I’m With You.

The new disc is their first disc with Josh Klinghoffer, whose voice and guitar tone sound a lot like those of outgoing member John Frusciante, who left in 2009.

Mainstay members Anthony Kiedis (vocals) and Michael “Flea” Balzary (bass) stormed the stage in pants with one leg cut off, exposing soccer-style tube socks.  Kiedis jumped to the disco throb of “Monarchy of Roses” and gritty groove of “Can’t Stop” before doffing his black dinner jacket and red T-shirt and displaying his tattoos.  The similarly-inked Flea didn’t bother with a shirt at all, working up a sweat while thrumming his bass for an upbeat “Charlie” and bouncy “Factory of Faith.”

Kiedis and Balzary (who met in high school) can still deliver a solid set after thirty years on the circuit.  Their group—which also features powerhouse drummer Chad Smith—is something of a food processor for the soul.  They blend rap with rock, mix metal with soul, and puree ballads with big beats worthy of sports arenas around the world.  Even on an off night (which this wasn’t) the guys play hard and work up a quick lather, indulging in spontaneous jams between radio hits like “Under the Bridge” and album deep cuts like “Throw Away Your Television.”

The Peppers are anything but perfunctory; it’s nearly impossible to look like you’re just going through the motions when said motions are so perspiration-inducing.  By the end of this night Smith had swung from a lighting truss.  Flea walked the length of the stage on his hands (The last time he played this venue—Halloween 2006—the acrobatic bassist was lowered from the rafters on a cable).

Sing-alongs “Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” and “Dani California” appeased youngsters in the near-sellout crowd, while raunchy Blood Sugar Sex Magic holdover “Sir Psycho Sexy” sated longtime RHCP enthusiasts in the mood for some lascivious lyrics.

Klinghoffer’s earned a place with his fellow Peppers, both on record and on the road.  Physically and sonically the newcomer recalls his predecessor, a six-string guru who could toss off a bittersweet tune like “Scar Tissue” one moment (while adding higher-pitched vocal harmonies)—then stomp on a distortion pedal and wail on a wall-banger like “Look Around.”  Klinghoffer’s conniptions are a nice match for Flea’s nonstop bass antics, and the two musicians often rendezvoused in front of Smith’s drum rostrum for tag-team solos and off-script instrumental improvisation.

Kiedis, 49, showed no signs of having spent the winter nursing a broken foot.  The muscular maestro of musical mayhem once known as “Tony Flow” and “Cole Dammett” still has good muscle tone and whirling dervish dance moves.  Moreover, his breath control has improved; gone are the days of running out of steam and letting guitarists finish his long-winded verses and lung-taxing refrains.  Chalk it up to the front man’s hard-earned drug-free lifestyle and the spiritual cleansing of new fatherhood.

“Higher Ground”—a Stevie Wonder number covered by the band on their 1989 album Mother’s Milk—appeared on the Kiedis-scrawled set list, but someone called an audible and it was replaced by the equally hard-charging “Suck My Kiss.”  The set list also suggests the guys intended to play either (new song) “Meet Me on the Corner” or (Neil Young cover) “Everybody Knows this Is Nowhere,” but both were dropped in favor of extended jams and Robert Johnson super-skiffle “They’re Red Hot.”

The light show was an effective combination of old school arena rock gels and state-of-the-art LCD displays. A series of video monitors squared off high above the band, forming an octagon of multicolored lights. The screens split apart as the show progressed, descending and segmenting into ladder-like displays and mosaics juxtaposing simulcast images of the musicians with animated footage and archival photos. They made for a refreshing change from the static jumbo-trons used at most shows of this magnitude, offering close-ups for fans in the rafters while contributing to the overall visual aesthetic.  Some audience members even had their profiles shown during the encore; arena staffers had taken photos of arriving concertgoers for inclusion on the “Give It Away” finale.

Flea praised Ohio for producing so many great bands over the years, including Devo, Pere Ubu and The Necros.  Smith (whose translucent drum kit bore a Detroit Redwings logo in addition to the Peppers’ own asterisk icon) thanked the crowd along with Kiedis before departing.

Swedish electronic band Little Dragon opened the show with forty-five minutes of Eighties-inspired dance-pop.  Clad in a rainbow of spandex, female singer Yukimi Nagano channeled early Madonna, Kim Wilde, and Sheila E. while her male cohorts pounded away on drums (acoustic and electric) and poked at keyboards.  The foursome fared well warming up for the Hall of Famers, given their lack of stringed instruments;  Little Dragon’s thick bass sound was produced by the lower keys on a synthesizer.

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