2003 March Kerrang! (947)


Red Hot Chili Peppers

Plus: The Mars Volta


Docklands Arena, London

IT TAKES a rare band to transform a large cavern sucked of all life into something approximating a Saturday night party. Many try, most fail. Merely holding an audience’s attention in a cowshed that’s better suited to sales exhibitions is hard enough when the distance between band and audience is a widening chasm. So, if anyone is equipped to turn a potentially frustrating evening into something memorable, then it’s the Red Hot Chili Peppers. With a million sales of their last album, ‘By The Way, under their belts in the UK alone, the quartet are bare-chested kings sitting atop the rock pile (a position they’ve occupied in their own minds for the 20-odd years since their formation). Some people are even referring to them as ‘classic’, ‘veteran’ and ‘legendary -terms generally reserved for crusty old knob-ends like The Eagles.

Full respect to the Chilis for bringing The Mars Volta on tour with them. At first glance there are few similarities between the stadium-rock and goolball funk of the former and the bizarre, artistically Inc fined jazz-punk-prog – ugh! – fusion of the latter. But both LA-based bands exist alone in their own self-created genres, and both are unafraid to push the proverbial envelope even if it means being berated or laughed at for doing so (let’s not forget the Chili Peppers spent a great deal of their career in critical limbo, dismissed by many as low-brow jocks in tube socks for committing the heinous crime of playing funk-metal, and actualy having fun doing it). The Mars Volta, meanwhile., have dared to turn their backs on the rigid codes of the hardcore/emo underground in a bold move to tread new musical ground, which is generally enough to incur the wrath of anyone who expects familiar, tawdry entertainment from their rock bands.

But this matters little in the grand scheme of thing. Tonight, with all-new backing musicians in tow, the core duo of singer Cedric Bixler and guitarist Omar Rodriguez unveil a band who are tight, stylish, intriguing, indulgent, compelling and dazzlingly confident. Given that their conflicting clash of styles is groundbreaking yet far from accessible (think Fugazi and Porno For Pyros produced by The Aphex Twin, then think again) and they’re playing a venue most support bands would suffer in, they pull off an opening performance in thrilling style. Less hard – though no less intense – than previous band At The Drive-In. the likes of ‘Concertina’ sees the five-piece throwing) an sorts of shapes against a backdrop of serrated guitars and syncopated rhythms, their big hair and exaggerated moves compensating nicely for the fact that they are essentially miniscule dots on the distant horizon. Visionaries are rarely acknowledged before it’s too late. Don’t let this happen with The Mars Volta.

It’s laughable to think of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as elder, wiser statesmen when they essentially look, talk and play like they’re still 18. It takes tonight’s openers ‘By The Way’ and ‘Scar Tissue’ to remind us that such sun-drenched introspective pap songs are the products of a band only just approaching maturity. Aside from bassist Flea confiding that Joe Strummer is his favourite ever Englishman and Anthony Kiedis enquiring if “there’s anyone from Catford in the house?” there’s little in the way of chat tonight. Too many songs to get through. Guitarist John Frusciante’s influence is immeasurable (remember how they became a bad self-parody without him in the mid-’90s?) as he flutters between Minutemen-style funk runs and the more fluid playing of his recent hits like ‘Californication’ and “The Zephyr Song.’ And rubbish lyrics aside, recent single ‘Can’t Stop is one churning urn of burning funk tonight.

Vitally, the Chili Peppers achieve that rare feat of never being boring-and, let’s be honest 90 per cent of arena gigs are mind-numbingly tedious- even when they’re wandering off on jams or threatening to go New Age hippy-dippy. And even though you just know they’ve undoubtedly been sharing group hugs and hummus backstage, thankfully no bongos wake an appearance. The mix of the melancholic “Under The Bridge’ and 1987/s ‘Me & My Friends” shows a band who have not only survived all manner of career-threatening traumas, but are one of the few multi-million-selling bands still capable of endearing themselves to anyone whose path they cross. No wonder they’re still smiling. BEN MYERS


RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS: 1. Antwan the swan 2. John Frusciante, a man on the edge 3. Flea gets the place jumping 4. The Mars Volta’s Cedric shakes his thang 5. There’s definitely a spot on this stage… 6. Can you digit? 7. No jacket required…

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