2004 July Kerrang (1012)

HIGHER GROUND

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS

HYDE PARK, LONDON

20.06.04

THIS IS really something. A band who have been despised, written off, lauded, dismissed and lauded again truly living up to their tag as ‘biggest band in the world’. There aren’t many that can sell out an 85,000-ticket gig; there are fewer still that can do it two nights in a row. To manage it two weekends in a row, and play similar sized events in-between is truly special. But, despite the sales figures, despite the fame, it’s still something they need to prove they can pull off. They are, after all, still a band whose live performances can vary wildly.

They open with a jam, Flea and Frusciante trading funk licks before Kiedis emerges, resplendent in white shorts and vest. From here on they prove their worth. Mostly culled from ‘Californication’ and ‘By The Way’, every song — while not exactly flawlessly performed —drips with charisma. ‘By The Way’ sends the crowd predictably mental, ‘Californication’ — prefaced by another Flea and Frusciante jam — is enormous; a tumultuous epic whose eloquence is matched by stunning visuals. All the time, six big screens flicker between animations, graphics and footage of the band.

While Kiedis’ singing has never been his greatest ability, tonight it’s glorious. His tendency to veer into rapping whenever faced with a challenging note is checked, the high notes more or less hit. But it’s really John Frusciante that’s holding this band together now. His guitar is masterful, solos cutting through the cold, damp air of Hyde Park as he wanders the stage, apparently unfazed by the size of his crowd. His solo spots are equally as show stopping. There’s a certain fragility when he’s stood onstage, one that’s echoed by his haunting falsetto during his covers of The Chanters ‘Maybe’ and Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ (which Flea fucks up, apologising immediately afterwards by singing a song about it).

The Chilis have now become one of those hands that everyone likes, from the music aficionados to those that only go to one gig a year and, as such, they’re under pressure to appeal to all. There are therefore times when they look constrained by the songs they have to play. They do a good job of looking as if they still enjoy playing ‘Under The Bridge’, but it’s during their cover of .45 Grave’s ‘Black Cross’ that they really cut loose. Most of the crowd have no idea what the punk fury is that’s spilling from the stage, but the looks of ecstasy on the band’s faces prove that the Chilis haven’t forgotten their punk roots, nor have they forgotten how to take a risk by playing just for themselves.

Whether they’ll want to play gigs of this size again is debatable. As it is, London witnessed something truly great.

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