October 25, 2006

A Fusion of Old and New

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This past Saturday, the Pepsi Arena in Albany proved a veritable Mecca for Red Hot Chili Peppers fans of all ages. Pre-teens and parents alike packed the arena to hear the funk-rock band promote their newest album, Stadium Arcadium, released in May, 2006.
The audience patiently awaited the main act while the Mars Volta, who have been touring with the Chili Peppers since August, attempted to warm up the crowd with what amounted to an hour-long jam session that was unsatisfying at best and eardrum damaging at worst.
Fortunately, this crowd of serious Peppers fans needed no warming up. The audience jumped to its feet and wildly applauded as the stage was set up with three microphones and a drum set, promising the cleaner and clearer sound that has contributed to RHCP’s unique style.
Flea, the band’s bass player, was the first to appear on stage, followed by Frusciante on guitar. Their simple duet hushed the arena until the audience quickly recognized the distinctive first measures of “Can’t Stop” from By The Way, released in 2002. Anthony Kiedis, the lead vocalist and songwriter, soon bounded on stage to the roar of the crowd, jumping and dancing over to the microphone to officially begin the set.
One might worry that the members of the RHCP, who have been recording and performing since the early ’80s, might have lost some of their youthful vigor upon reaching their late thirties/early forties. However, the rock stars proved to have retained their characteristic spunk and spit-and-vinegar, with Kiedis cavorting around stage and Flea rocking out with his bass, which served as much as a percussive instrument as a melodic one. Frusciante, playing guitar and singing harmony, was equally absorbed in the music, at times standing stone-still at the microphone with only his mouth and his fingers disturbing the almost meditative quality of his frozen stance.
The band’s set drew mostly from their three latest albums, including the ever-popular Californication (the 1999 album’s namesake) and Parallel Universe. Featured from Stadium Arcadium were hits such as “Dani California,” the mellower “Wet Sand” and the upbeat “Tell Me Baby.” Four video screens that served as the stage’s backdrop played a montage of cartoon-like animations that complimented Kiedis’ visual lyrics. When the screens weren’t flashing images of a dragon flying through space and a fishnet-clad girl walking the streets of L.A., the backdrop featured close-ups of the band members at work. At one particularly poignant moment during the performance, the camera zeroed in on Flea and Frusciante as the two stood face-to-face, sweat coating their veined hands and fingers, as they picked out the perfectly fused melodies and harmonies.
Even as world-acclaimed superstars playing to an audience of thousands, the band sought to make their fans feel like an important part of the music making. Kiedis made sure that the left and right sides of the arena got equal attention, while Frusciante frequently stood at the very edge of the stage and played to outstretched hands from the audience. Chad Smith, the band’s dynamic drummer, more than once threw his drumsticks into the audience as the crowd cheered with delight. Near the end of the set, while Kiedis gave his voice a much-needed break, Flea took the mike and acknowledged the loyal fans in the audience, saying, “Thanks for keeping our music alive.” And it’s true — long-time Chili Peppers fans have stayed faithful, even as the band’s sound changed from its early punk-rock style with provocative lyrics to a more finely tuned, controlled sound with lyrics just as provocative (though perhaps more cleverly masked in metaphors). For these die-hards who listened to the Chili Peppers before many members of the audience were old enough to own a CD player, the band brought back some of their old favorites for the encore.
The electricity, both in the audience and on stage, reached a new level as “Give It Away Now,” from the 1991 album Blood Sugar Sex Majik, vibrated throughout the arena. Even after an hour and a half of exhaustive performing, the band managed to turn back the clock 15 years to a time when their energy flowed from a seemingly endless source. Kiedis sang with renewed gusto as he spat out the lyrics in his old-school rapper style, literally reaching unprecedented heights as he and Flea simultaneously jumped to the beat. Frusciante rocked his body and guitar in the corner of the stage, throwing his long wavy hair around his head in time to Chad’s explosive drumming. At this climax of the concert, the thousands of bodies in the audience moved as one to the pulse of the music.
Thoroughly riled up by the end, the crowd could have stayed for another half hour set to pay tribute to the band’s older songs. However, the Chili Peppers wisely called it a night, leaving the audience thirsting for more. If the band’s successful history and the night’s electric performance are any indication, Peppers fans will be able to get their fix for a good while longer.