"Standing in line to see the show tonight" was the opening line of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' sold-out concert at Atlantic City's Borgata Casino Sunday night -- which was just what most of the 3,000-person crowd did for more than forty minutes before the California funk rockers took the stage. But when the lights finally dimmed to the pang of John Frusciante's screaming guitar opening "By the Way," it was apparent that the audience -- ranging from preteens to RHCP old-timers -- couldn't care less. As bassist Flea played in an oversize diaper, frontman Anthony Kiedis played singalong with an enthusiastic crowd.
Taking a break from the studio where they are working on the as-yet-untitled follow-up to 2002's By the Way, the Chili Peppers' Borgata show was their first solo gig in the U.S. since 2003. While they played a set the previous night, at the Amsterjam festival on New York's Randall's Island featuring a mash-up with bass legend Bootsy Collins and hip-hop's Snoop Dogg, the Borgata show was a rawer and more intimate Chili Pepper performance.
The opener led straight into the mellow cadence of "Scartissue," which had Flea jumping with his bass. Frusciante, mouth open and eyes closed, played a wild, show-stealing guitar solo.
"There's a lot of pretty girls in here, " Flea observed of the many scattered ladies hoisted above the crowd on shoulders. "What about the fellas?" asked Kiedis, before the entire band broke into the Donna Summer classic, "I Feel Love," with Frusciante delivering freakish falsettos reminiscent of the disco-diva.
The hour-forty-minute set continued with more songs off By the Way, including "Don't Forget Me" and "Throw Away Your Television," as well as the title track off 1999's Californication. With Frusciante and Flea knee-sliding and Kiedis swinging the mike, the band rode a wave of energy and played songs off their upcoming album, with the crowd swaying as if they'd known the numbers for years. The first was a more melodic, pop-y sister of "Otherside," while the second was more up-beat punk-funk. Then, in a moment of funk improvisation, Flea ripped into the dirty bass line of James Brown's "Sex Machine" to get the crowd pumping.
The highlight of the show came with the set's closer, By the Way's "Can't Stop," during which a blinding strobe light pierced the crowd. Fans forgot the "no moshing and crowd surfing" signs as both broke out on the floor. As the band left the stage, the audience pulled out their lighters in a call for an encore. Eventually, Frusciante returned, and armed with Flea's bass -- and Flea with a trumpet -- delivered a jazz-infused jam, followed by the entire band on "Under the Bridge." The show closed with the syncopated hopping of Kiedis and Flea on "Give It Away."
As the band waved goodbye, Flea called out, "Thank you! We love you! We are just foolish little guys, and we're grateful!" And to prove just how moved he was, diapers and all, Flea did a handstand before exiting the stage.