Sunday 6th of November was highlighted for quite a while in my agenda as it promised to be an evening of youth nostalgia with the Red Hot Chili Peppers passing by in Belgium. The Peppers were my first big live concert over 10 years ago at Rock Werchter 2006. Bassist Flea is still THE reason I chose to play four strings instead of the ever popular regular guitar. Nowadays these 50+ year old rockers play radio friendly rock hits and the funky punch is often hard to find. I decided not to attend Rock Werchter anymore a long time ago and hence I did not have a chance to measure the quality of this iconic band when they last visited Belgium this summer at the Werchter festival (where else?). I tried to keep my expectations in check since I heard complaints about Anthony Kiedis‘ vocal lines in recent months and I wondered about the balance between the band’s older up tempo work and recent radio friendly hits.
Unlike other dates on the tour the approximately 23.000 seats in Belgium’s biggest roofed venue (Sportpaleis) were not sold out. So we got plenty of time to find a spot on the balcony while the band Deerhoof from San Francisco warmed up the audience. The band has a repertoire spanning over 20 years, but was unfamiliar to us. We managed to catch the last three songs and heard an experimental pop rock band with quite an eclectic sound. Singer Satomi Matsuzaki stood small in front of the growing audience, but made herself noticeable due to her colorful outfit and peculiar voice. We were not the only ones unacquainted with Deerhoof as most of the audience stood still watching or were busy grabbing a last drink before the main event.
There was no audio tape playing as Chad Smith, Flea and newcomer Josh Klinghoffer climbed the stage. They picked up their instruments and set off into an intro jam. And immediately I was remembered why I love the live shows of RHCP. Despite the many hits there is still room for playful frolics and plenty of improvisations live on stage. And the fact they actually pull it off proves that these are genuine musicians. The intro jam finishes off with Flea hitting to familiar bass notes of Around The World and Anthony Kiedis grabbing the microphone to shout the concert up to speed. With Dani California and Scar Tissue we get some classic tunes before the quartet presents us some of their newer work. Dark Necessities and other songs on The Getaway feel like the band has found its new form and drive, unlike the boring and plain I’m With You album. Luckily we get only one song of this release (Did I Let You Know) and even this one felt unnecessary. It was clear the Peppers were looking for new unity after the departure of Frusciante and the addition of Klinghoffer to the line-up. While the I’m With You album might have been a letdown, Josh‘ performance was everything you could expect to fit into the ranks of these crazy rockers. He joined in with precise improvisations and snippets of some covers. He presented us with some work of the now late Leonard Cohen, T. Rex and for the encore even some Jacques Brel. Not all of them were equally successful but it was an honest performance that is often missed with bands of this caliber.
Throughout the set we get bursts of the older Peppers‘ material. The up tempo song Right On Time has not been seen on the setlist for quite a while and its intensity hits both band and audience. We see Klinghoffer, Kiedis and Flea jumping all over the place, on and off the amplifiers with ease and grace. Kiedis performs his typical energetic dance moves that would cause any other person to be dragged of the dance floor, but he pulls it off. Did they pay their surgeons very well or did they break the spell of aging? All the complaints about Kiedis‘ vocal capacity are forgotten when he delivers nice and clean renditions of the newer Feasting on Flowers, Detroit and even the almost forgotten Aeroplane from the One Hot Minute album. In between all the action going on on stage we could not help but noticing that Kiedis seemed to have his lyrics laid out in front of him. A minor sign of aging? For the newer material the band had the help of additional musicians on stage. Nate Walcott played the piano for the intro of the encore and the trumpet on Did I Let You Know, while Samuel Bañuelos provided the additional bass lines on Go Robot. Double the bass, double the pleasure! Our evening in the Sportpaleis not only was a pleasant listening experience, but it offered us also an amazing light show. While behind the band the screens switched from regular portrayals to psychedelic trips, above the crowd hundreds of light tubes were digitally transformed from wave patterns, over a staircase, to raindrop effects. We reached the climax of the set as Flea and Klinghoffer freestyled from yet another improvisation into Californication. If you know the Live at Slane Castle DVD of the band you knew what was coming but still it grips you so intensely…
A little later we also got Under The Bridge and By The Way completing the regular set. Even though Flea walked back on the stage on his hands the rest of the encore was rather slow with the new song Dreams of a Samurai. Luckily the band decided to finish the whole thing off with Give It Away. We might have missed Suck My Kiss and Can’t Stop in the setlist, but with such a repertoire it is hard to please everyone. A vibrant show that passed way too fast, proving that this iconic rock band is still very much alive.