Red Hot Chili Peppers – review

Stadium of Light, Sunderland

When Red Hot Chili Peppers last visited the north-east – hauling their punky-funky-metal fusion into Newcastle's modest Riverside club in 1990 – few would have put money on the Californians living out their days playing stadiums. But that was followed by a commercial ascent through the 1990s, which peaked when 2002's By the Way album channelled years of hard partying, sex, drug addiction, a death and a breakdown into a multimillion-selling reflection on the band members' lives.

Since then, John Frusciante – the most troubled but talented of their various guitarists – has quit for the second time and, after two lacklustre albums in the last decade, it falls to talismanic bassist Flea to convince Sunderland there's still life in this party.

The only man in the stadium to brave the Wearside cold topless, he plays bass on the floor, and while gurning and hopping from one leg to another. He explains how formidable drummer Chad Smith "emerged from his mother's vagina with a heart of steel". With the Chili Peppers now in their 30th year as a band, they no longer perform with socks over their penises or play infamous songs such as Party on Your Pussy (or, indeed, any original material from before 1991). But with Flea's rubber funk underpinning the sound more than usual – particularly during the live-wire jams that preface every song – it's possible to imagine their impact in the days when they were an underground phenomenon rather than mainstream stars.

Current guitarist Josh Klinghoffer suits the heavy funk and brings psychedelic shapes to a lovely Universally Speaking. Scar Tissue suffers most from the hole left by Frusciante's soulful waterfalls of notes, which seemed to come from a deeply personal and painful place. Recent songs such as Ethiopia are anonymous Chili funk, but the show has its moments. Singer Anthony Kiedis – now modelling a curious, moustached image suggestive of Sparks' Ron Mael in a baseball cap – sings the eerily beautiful Californication and Under the Bridge with eyes closed: it must be hard to conjure a dark lament about drug addiction while staring out at fast-food stalls and girders.

By the Way, Give It Away and their riotous cover of Stevie Wonder's Higher Ground get the party started. Flea, a real trooper, saves his best till last, walking on his hands across the stage. In the end, it feels like a celebration, but more of who the Red Hot Chili Peppers were than who they have become.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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