Monday, August 28

Live: Red Hot Chili Peppers & Mars Volta 8/22/06

Of the bigger artists (i.e. those capable of selling out a stadium) I actively listen to and who still tour, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were the last on my list to see, after I had checked Pearl Jam off the list earlier this summer at Cox Arena. Like any self-respecting fan of live music, I generally try and avoid seeing concerts in stadiums or arenas (for a good reason too, as much of the Pearl Jam live experience was ruined by the venue) but I’ve been such a huge fan of both bands for so long that I had to go, if only to prove my dedication to such formative artists.

Our seats were much better than I thought they would be, thanks in part to an iTunes presale. We were a few rows up in the bleachers, directly stage left from the bands. It was certainly a strange mix of fans—stoners, open-minded hardcore kids, and pretentious prog rockers for the Mars Volta, and middle-age parents, funkcore fans, and people who knew radio singles for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. During the night it was sort of surreal to see little kids looking for their seats, a fifty-year-old drunk couple rocking out in the aisle and getting sent back to their seats by the security staff, and my rich metalhead friend at the same time. But, as it turns out, the diversity made the music that much more unifying and triumphant.

The Mars Volta kicked it into gear with “Roulette Dares (The Haunt of)”, my favorite Mars Volta track and proof that, while the new drummer may not be Jon Theodore, he can still beat the shit out of the kit. After a much-appreciated rendition of “The Widow” from last year’s “Frances the Mute”, the Mars Volta spent the rest of their set playing songs from their upcoming album, “Amputechture”. And, while much of the songs on the actual album are somewhat less than exciting, the Mars Volta’s live prowess does them wonders. Cedrix Bixler-Zavala seemed somewhat out of sorts during the set, drinking tea (perhaps he was sick?) and expressing discontent with his vocal tone but, despite his problems, he still found time for his signature “twitch-your-legs-below-the-knee-while-keeping-the-rest-of-your-body-still” dancing. Also, because of much of the audience was comprised of people generally out of touch with recent music and who had only come because they liked the Red Hot Chili Peppers back in 1992, the crowd wasn’t quite responsive to the Mars Volta’s set. It was solid, quality live music that Mars Volta fans enjoyed immensely, but the mood at the iPayOne Arena didn’t quite pick up until RHCP took the stage.

After the fifty-year-olds and radio-mongers had expressed their joy at the Mars Volta getting off the stage and after the rest of us had given them sufficiently dirty looks, sometimes accompanied by hand gestures involving only one finger with oblivious looks on our faces, John Frusciante dance-stepped his way onstage, playing a phase-shifting funk riff as Chad Smith sat down at the kit and settled into his groove. Next came Flea, donning a strange, discolored jump suit (male leotard? I’m not even sure…) and assaulting the crowd with his duel headbanging and BASS IN YOUR FACE technique. The band jammed for a few minutes before starting “Can’t Stop”, during which Mr. Anthony Kiedis bounced his way onstage.

The band looked terribly happy to be playing together, Frusciante reveling in his long hair and huge catalogue of facial expressions, Smith doing his “throw my drumstick up in the air and catch it before playing again” trick as many times as could be deemed appropriate, Flea trying to find some outlet for his insane amount of energy by kicking and jumping and climbing on things and yelling, and Kiedis trying some weird dances moves that looked like hardcore Irish dancing, made slightly worse by the fact that, from the waste down, he has somewhat of a feminine figure. The whole band actually looked kind of silly, as if they weren’t quite sure how to act onstage as stadium-filling rock stars, but the audience took it for what it was: a legendary band, happy to be playing for them, and as into the music as they themselves were. They succeeded in overcoming the often poisonous effects of arena concerts, likely due to their ten years of experience, making the set feel intimate and pulling off a decent mix despite the arena’s tendency to echo.

The Chili Peppers, thankfully, took songs from all over their catalogue, not only focusing on tracks from this year’s “Stadium Arcadium”. The farthest they reached back was “Me and My Friends”, a classic track from 1987’s “Uplift Mofo Party Plan”, which most of the audience wasn’t familiar with but longtime RHCP fans were overjoyed to hear. They played the seldom-heard b-side “Havana Affair”, a strange Ramones cover and, about halfway through the set, Kiedis gave the floor to Frusciante who, after collaborating with his bandmates regarding lyrics, sang a beautiful rendition of Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” which, Kiedis said, “lifts my spirits”. They also included a large portion of their singles and fan favorites, including “Californication”, “By the Way”, “Dani California”, “Give It Away”, and “Fortune Faded” but, surprisingly, omitted the ever-popular “Under the Bridge”, “Around the World”, and “Otherside”.

The night’s highlights were many. Though it’s one of my least favorite songs on “By the Way”, “Throw Away Your Television” was one of said moments, the latter half of the song comprising a face-melting Frusciante solo so amazing that it left the first few rows of fans little more than piles of human liquid. “Don’t Forget Me”, clearly one of the band’s stronger live songs after its solid appearance on “Live in Hyde Park”, was fantastic, rising and falling with perfect momentum as a sort of pulsing, living entity beneath one of Kiedis’ best vocal performances. To be fair and mention one of the band’s newer tunes, “Wet Sand” was wonderful and moving, especially the last minute or so during the chorus of “You don’t fall in the wet sand / you don’t fall at all / I do, I do.” My personal favorite moment of the night was the first song of the encore; the Chili Peppers played “I Could Have Lied”, a slow, self-deprecating ballad off 1991’s “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” and, in my opinion, the most honest, sad, and beautiful songs in the RHCP catalogue (which, according to what I have on my iTunes, exceeds 200 songs and 16 hours of material) and one of those songs that has the uncanny ability to help you get through life’s hard times simply by existing.

While the set wasn’t perfect, due mostly to the dichotomy between oldschool RHCP fans and RHCP radio single followers as well as Frusciante’s restless fiddling with his several dozen effects pedals, the audience (even those who had shown up just for the Mars Volta [“What? They’re not co-headlining?”]) shared a love for the Chili Peppers consistently high-quality songs and insatiable energy. It was an evening of triumph—over a diversity of fans, over the Rolling-Stones syndrome of playing twenty years past your welcome, over a band-unfriendly venue and, most of all, over the hearts and minds of believers and unbelievers alike.

The Mars Volta - Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of) [Live]
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Me & My Friends
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Don't Forget Me [Live]

- Dominick Duhamel -

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At 10:52 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I better not be your rich metalhead friend. haha. That was a great concert. I'm happy to see you still like the mars volta. Everytime you criticize them, a little part of me dies because you're the one who made me like them. Great blog guys.


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