Red Hot Chili Peppers, London Arena

London Arena
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In recent years, it seems rock music has come round to the Red Hot Chili Peppers' way of doing things. In the 1980s, the Californian quartet were anomalous, a white band attempting to mix the testosterone-powered roar of heavy metal with frat-house humour and hip-hop beats and rhymes. Eighteen years on, nu metal reigns. You can barely move for white bands attempting to mix the testosterone-powered roar of heavy metal with frat-house humour and hip-hop beats and rhymes.

Accordingly, the Chili Peppers are back on top. Grunge-fixated mid-1990s audiences looked askance at bands who favoured being photographed with socks dangling over their penises, while heroin threatened to overwhelm guitarist John Frusciante and singer Anthony Kiedis. Yet their last album, Californication, was the biggest of their career, shifting 12.5m copies. Tonight the London Arena is packed and Gwyneth Paltrow is in the audience.

Tattooed, stripped to the waist and impressively muscular, the Chili Peppers look like Limp Bizkit's older relations. As their set progresses, however, there is the sense that to characterise them as nu-metal godfathers is to do them a disservice. Despite bassist Michael "Flea" Balzary's goonish humour ("I love England and your pies and mash and your Echo and the Bunnymen and your soldiers in red with big hats standing guard"), there is audibly more to their sound. You could never accuse Papa Roach of subtlety, but that is exactly what's on offer here: Frusciante's high harmonies recall the Beach Boys, the stammering, scratchy guitars suggest someone has been listening to the post-punk funk of Gang of Four, while Flea's basslines are fabulously lithe, another adjective not readily associated with nu metal.

They open with the current single and title track of their forthcoming album By the Way, a refined version of the Chili Peppers formula: soulful radio-friendly chorus, thumping funk-metal verses. The other new songs tone down the metal, offering Motown backbeats, intriguing guitar textures and melodies that could reasonably be described as poppy. The mosh teens in oversized shorts seem confused, but the older heads nod with approval.

Approaching their 40s, surrounded by reductive progeny, the Chili Peppers seem suddenly interested in ageing with dignity.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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