TAKE THE Red Hot Chili Peppers seriously. Oh, go on. Please. No? Hey, you might have a point, actually. Let’s not get caught up in the whole ‘Rock’s Greatest Survivors’ thing. Of course it’s a tragedy that original guitarist Hillel Slovak overdosed in 1988, and I think we can all agree it’s A Good Thing that frontmuffin Anthony Kiedis and fragile guitarist John Frusciante have wrestled monstrous heroin problems into submission, but we are dealing with three men who turn 40 this year (Frusciante is the baby at 32, though the pandemonium drugs have wreaked on his body proves it’s not the years that matter, it’s the mileage) who are struggling to fuse their goodtime boy heritage with the reality of their present. ‘. That reality is that for all their embracing of bawdy ‘bass humping your face’ funk, this is a band that have built their recent huge success on ballads, music bookended by Travis and Jamiroquai on dinner party mix tapes. Sure, they play ‘Give It Away’, but they toss it off early into the set, choosing to finish instead with the slow-burning smack fable I: ‘Under The Bridge’ an hour later.
In this small North London club – a V warm-up show for a summer playing European arenas and festivals – the Chills are nothing if not predictable. They still play stripped to the waist (except hulking drummer Chad Smith) and they still take themselves incredibly seriously despite, if you’re really honest, being essentially pretty silly. Fun, yes, but still silly – like Twister, Adam Sandler movies or The Village People. Forget their obsession with yoga -a replacement addiction for more risky habits it would seem, as the comparatively untroubled Smith warms up with nothing more strenuous than a beer and a fag – and ignore the vaguely condescending West Coast cod spirituality that Kiedis weaves into any sentence he can. This is a band that, at heart, will always be a bunch of tattooed herberts, the cocksure architects of some of the most gloriously mindless party anthems – sometimes they even like to ‘party on your pussy’, ladies -who have spent the best part of an 18-year career, beating audiences into submission – and, in the case of one couple tonight, actual nudity—with their manly grooves and ripped abs. But as the Chili Peppers make that tricky transition into middle age with a ginseng munching ‘don’t mention the socks’ attitude and a fistful of gentler tracks for their new-found adult following, the berserk reaction to older material like ‘Power Of Equality speaks volumes. Those new mature songs might shift units to Coldplay fans and get lighters swaying gently in the air, but it’s the old school finger-popping basslines, kung fu stage moves and frenetic vocals that ensure the good people of St John’s Ambulance will be a permanent fixture at the band’s bigger dates. And those dehydrating rabble-rousers are in fairly short supply here.
Disappointingly also for such an intimate show, there is an air of another-day-at-the-office about proceedings, with Kiedis – his brown hair hanging slightly long like a naughty sixth former-doing little to engage the audience with anything bar a few snatches of unintelligible blather, some of it in a cockney accent seldom heard outside failed auditions for ‘EastEnders’. The only curveball is pitched by Frusciante, who rattles off a spirited cover of The Sweet’s ‘Fox On The Run’, as otherwise this is a greatest hits set culled from 1991’s’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik’, 99’s ‘Californication’ and their new record, ‘By The Way. The band’s musicianship is, naturally for such 11ong-serving unit, beyond reproach. However, as one note-perfect rendition follows another it’s a shame that even in this environment, where the crowd is so partisan that if Chad Smith farted onto a snare drum there would be crazed applause, the band don’t feel they can muck around a little more. NO-one’s asking for ‘Sir Psycho Sexy (‘There’s a devil in my dick and some demons in my semen!’), but ‘Catholic School Girls Rule’ or ‘Me And My Friends’ would be nice. .
The next time you pay to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers they’ll be four dots -albeit half-naked dots – far off in the middle distance. If you’re lucky, there might be huge video screens so you can watch the action half a second after you hear it. You don’t often get to watch a band this big in a venue this small, so tonight the excitement of being able to feel the wind off Flea’s bass-strings has ,’masked the fact that, inarguably, this is a pretty average effort from the self-styled funky monks-They should have blown the roof off. Instead, there’s just a couple of loose tiles’.