It was big funk in Big Sur, California, as the Red Hot Chili Peppers played their first show in four years under the stars, in the Pacific Coast woodlands, on July 27th. The band made their live debut with new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer at the Henry Miller Memorial Library, a cultural center and book store, on a lawn surrounded by towering trees, for a lucky audience of 300 people. The Chili Peppers' bassist, Flea, has a house in the area, and the exuberant crowd was mostly friends and neighbors, who danced despite the evening chill and heard the first concert performances of songs from the group's forthcoming album, I'm With You.
"Every other song is a new thing, things we've never played before," singer Anthony Kiedis announced, three numbers into the set. "It's just a little exciting for us," he added with huge understatement.
Opening with "Monarchy of Roses" from the new record, the band zigzagged between the recent past – their previous decade's success with ex-guitarist John Frusciante – and the two years of writing and recording that went into the new record with Klinghoffer. The polyrhythmic flair of "Ethiopia," the hard charging "Look Around" and the buoyant "Factory of Faith" were dynamic previews of the pop breadth and psychedelic flair of I'm With You.
The Chili Peppers – featuring new percussionist Mauro Refosco, who played with Flea in Thom Yorke's group Atoms for Peace – also covered Frusciante's two spells in the group, with "Charlie" from 2006's Stadium Arcadium, the rap-metal assault "Throw Away Your Television" on 2002's By the Way and in the encore, the super funk of "Give It Away," from the 1991 breakthrough, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. When the cold started to affect Kiedis' singing, the band changed the set list, slipping in a beautiful, unscheduled take on "Californication," from that 1999 album, with Klinghoffer taking the lead vocal on the chorus to help save Kiedis' voice.
The band was literally playing in wilderness conditions. When the lights failed a couple of times early in the show, Flea asked the crowd to turn on their cell phone lights, so the band could see what it was doing. The effect, until the stage lighting was fixed, was like a rock & roll campfire party.
The Chili Peppers do two more secret small-venue West Coast shows this weekend, then leave next week for an Asian tour. The band will also play South America and Europe this fall. "We've got new songs," Kiedis told the audience at the Henry Miller Memorial Library. "We've got old songs. We've got Josh. We've got Mauro." They've also got liftoff.
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