Over their 40-year career, Red Hot Chili Peppers have earned themselves the reputation as a very relaxed live band. Tonight (the second date of a global stadium tour that’ll keep the four-piece on the road until September) may start with bassist Flea and guitarist John Frusanctie huddled around Chad Smith’s drum kit, jamming like they were still in a Californian basement rather than the 55,000 capacity Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, but the second Anthony Kiedis struts onto the stage and launches into a thundering ‘Can’t Stop’, the Chili Peppers are urgent and excited.
What follows next is a viciously playful 100-minute set that sees the band show off their impressive legacy but also underlines why they’re still such a daring rock band, as demonstrated by return-to-form new album ‘Unlimited Love’.
Five new tracks from that intense, electric album are played during the night, but rather than sending the masses to the bar, the new material gets a warm welcome. The roaring ‘Black Summer’ flips between moody emo and hammering stadium rock, the live debut of ‘The Heavy Wing’ is a brooding hunk of guitar riffs and introspection and ‘These Are The Ways’ is perhaps the heaviest but most beautiful the band have ever sounded. Live, those dynamics are taken to the extreme with the quartet switching gears with no warning and the crowd very much along for the ride.
The bouncing ‘Whatchu Thinking’ sees the Red Hot Chili Peppers make the complex look effortless while the tumbling ‘Aquatic Mouth Dance’ is still a strange, surreal slice of funk, rap and rock – somehow delivered with a straight face. Elsewhere, the hits keep coming with ‘The Zephr Song’, ‘Otherside’ and ‘Californication’ still sounding interesting and elastic while the furious ‘Give It Away’ sees the band on the edge of chaos, barely keeping control.
With Frusciante back in the band (he gets a roaring cheer from the crowd when he first appears on the video screens), Red Hot Chili Peppers act like the past 15 years never happened, with nothing from recent albums ‘The Getaway’ or ‘I’m With You’ making it onto the setlist. More than just a guitarist, though, the returning axeman brings a sense of gravity to the whole show, allowing the rest of the high-spirited group to skip, flip and swagger about the stage like they haven’t a care in the world.
These are the biggest shows the Red Hot Chili Peppers have ever played. Speaking to NME last year, Keidis explained that stadiums were “tricky places to fill up with the feeling we want to fill them up with”, adding: “But we wanted to do something that we’ve not really done.”
If there were any nerves, though, the Red Hot Chili Peppers keep them well-hidden. There are no fancy production tricks to hide behind (just a giant video screen running down the mammoth stage) and the band are the same jostling, jovial bunch they’ve always been. “It’s an honour to play for you,” Flea announces early on in the night before telling the crowd he’s probably got “the sweatiest balls in Barcelona.”
At one point Flea dedicates a song to “all the happy little fetuses around the world”, later he asks the crowd “Do you feel happiness in your heart? Do you feel comfortable in your skin? Do you feel love for your fellow man or woman?” Elsewhere, Kiedis does an impromptu rap about someone’s new haircut. It all adds to that feeling of controlled chaos: this show is exactly what you’d expect from the funk-rock group, delivered with a new-found urgency. Yes, the band still indulge in jam sessions and elongated breakdowns whenever the mood strikes but they’re never meandering or boring, especially with Kiedis bounding about the stage; hype man, conductor, and fan boy all at the same time.
Four decades into their career and with most of the band in or approaching their 60s, it would be easy for this run of shows to feel comfortable or safe, with the Red Hot Chili Peppers just relying on their spectacular back catalogue of songs to see them through. Sure, the encore features a gut-wrenching, heartfelt ‘Under The Bridge’ and the still-gigantic thrash of ‘By The Way’ but the energy onstage feels new.
“Tour is one of the great survival tests,” Kiedis told NME last year. There have been plenty of times when the band have looked bored onstage, like they were simply going through the motions or waiting for the whole thing to collapse under the weight of their grand, genre-redefining legacy. But tonight the whole show feels giddy and unpredictable.
“I’m always optimistic,” Keidis said about the future of the Red Hot Chili Peppers in that NME interview. “I see no reason to ever stop doing what we’re doing.” Tonight sees the band back at their very best and breaking new ground. Long may it continue.
Red Hot Chili Peppers played:
‘Around the World’
‘The Zephyr Song’
‘Aquatic Mouth Dance’
‘Snow ((Hey Oh))’
‘Right on Time’
‘The Heavy Wing’
‘These Are the Ways’
‘I Could Have Lied’
‘Give It Away’
‘Under the Bridge’
‘By the Way’