Concert Review: Chili Peppers Ripen with Age

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(photos by Keith Klenowski)

After hearing from two friends that the Red Hot Chili Peppers peaked in 1991 with the release of “Under the Bridge,” I was frustrated with their ambivalence toward the Chili Peppers visit to US Bank Arena this past Saturday night.

In 1991, I was 12 years old and living in a small town in East Central Ohio. The local “Rock” radio station played mostly Boston, Bad Company and Styx like they were new on the music scene. The release of “Under the Bridge” opened my eyes to modern music. The station played it every hour. I loved the song so much that I put in on the same mix tape three times.

I still remember going to the beach that summer and being in heaven every time I heard the intro guitar solo. Plus, the MTV video made things look so cool — a guy strumming a hypnotic tune in a winter cap and another dude running badass Baywatch style. No, I did not get the meaning of the song until I was much older, but it was liberating for a neophyte music fan. I soon discovered Rolling Stone and the Grunge era eventually found my little town. However, I will always consider “Under the Bridge” as my introduction to modern Pop Rock music.

I had the opportunity to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers this summer while photographing V-Fest in Baltimore. Unfortunately, I was not treated to the magic of “Under the Bridge.” Thus, I was excited when I read that the Chili Peppers would be coming to Cincinnati and bringing the genre-bending act Gnarls Barkley along for the ride. This was a match made in heaven. Both bands are fun, a little silly, and have the potential to put on a great show. Plus, it is even better when a band I actually like sells out the underused U.S. Bank Arena.

On Saturday, Gnarls Barkley’s Cee-lo entered the stage to the band covering Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” A fitting song since the band dressed like rogue students from a preppy boarding school in upstate New York. Gnarls made for a great opening act, especially considering that they are talented enough to headline a show.

Over the next 45 minutes, they performed most of the songs off their debut album, St. Elsewhere. Producer and band member Danger Mouse knows how to make the music soar, tweaking every song and making it just a little different than you could believe possible. The highlight of their performance was the wonderfully funky rendition of “Feng-shui.” However, the crowd seemed indifferent to the musical genius in front of them until the end of the set when Cee-lo introduced “Crazy,” their “instant classic that made (him) a million dollars.” While the mixed crowd of 40-somethings, frat boys and teenaged girls who make me nervous about ever becoming a father did not offer an especially warm reception, Gnarls Barkley deserved it.

The Chili Peppers took that stage a little behind schedule with a nice jam sans Anthony Kiedis. During the opener, I recognized the talents of John Frusciante on guitar. Time to be honest here — while I have always loved music, it wasn’t until recently that I started appreciating what different members bring to a band. I knew that each member brought something special to the stage and each was given time to show off their talents. My new appreciation for their individual talents made this the first time that I ever enjoyed a band “jamming.”

The Chili Peppers focused mostly on songs from their last three albums. The enthusiastic crowd, which seemed to be saving their energy during Gnarls Barkley, really came alive mid-way through the set with the performance of “Snow (Hey Oh)” off the latest album Stadium Arcadium. The crowd kept the momentum going through the end of the show, which included an enjoyable version of “London Calling” segueing into “Right on Time.”

However, the highlight for me was the encore. After impressive drumming from Chad Smith that would have made Animal from The Muppets jealous, I heard the guitar solo that brought me here tonight. Under the spotlight of the side stage, John strummed the opening chords of “Under the Bridge.” A small smile appeared on my face as the memories of childhood came rushing back. The song, the inspiration for my current love of music, was absolutely perfect. The final treat, “Give It Away,” was icing on the cake for an amazing evening of music.

Despite what critics may say about their recent albums, the Peppers are still strong performers. While I admit that the Funk and fun of the earlier albums is gone, one has to question if that is necessarily a bad thing. Flea looked a little silly in his tight Lakers uniform, and Anthony is starting to dance like a drunken uncle at your wedding. The Chili Peppers are good at what they do and produce a “Pop” version of their earlier Funk Rock that the crowd wants to hear. As Anthony left the stage he said, “We love you” to the audience. Normally I find this to be a cheesy Rock Star move, but with this band, I really think they meant it.

— Keith Klenowski

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