Twenty-three years into a career that has seen them as a party band, rock stars, survivors, funk disciples and alternative-music icons, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have put all of those traits together for Stadium Arcadium, a two-CD, twenty-eight-song collection that has earned the L.A. quartet some of the best reviews of their career. Saturday night at Orange County’s Verizon Amphitheatre, the Chili Peppers officially brought the new CD to the stage in their first public show before their tour kicks off in August.
Headlining Los Angeles radio station KROQ’s annual Weenie Roast event, the Chilis followed an impressive and eclectic day of music that was highlighted by solid sets from Finnish rockers H.I.M., Panic! at the Disco, Damian Marley, She Wants Revenge, an unannounced acoustic appearance by Dave Grohl, and stadium-rocking performances from Rob Zombie and Matisyahu (two acts you thought you’d never see mentioned in the same sentence). If the crowd was weary, though, after an entire day of music in the sun, it was quickly resurrected by the presence of hometown heroes the Chili Peppers. The capacity audience took to their feet in a frenzy the moment the four-piece was introduced.
Opening with a brief funk instrumental, the quartet launched into “Can’t Stop,” off 2002’s By the Way, as lead singer Anthony Kiedis pogoed his way onstage. The band quickly upped the energy level with “Charlie,” one of several songs they played off Stadium that exploded to life in front of an audience, with bassist Flea and guitarist John Frusciante playing as if their lives were on the line.
“Charlie” was followed by a moving rendition of “Scar Tissue” and Stadium‘s lead single, “Dani California,” transformed from a mid-tempo pop number on record to an arena-rock anthem.
By the time “By the Way” was in full swing, the group seemed like a powder keg capable of blowing the roof off any venue, segueing with machine-like precision from the melodic intro and chorus into some furious funk-rock. The group’s power was evident throughout, even on the subtler Stadium track “Snow (Hey Oh).”
Throughout the eighty-minute set, the band bounded between both of its identities. The Chilis were melodic pop artists, on an impressive rendition of “Californication,” introduced with a duel between Flea and Frusciante, and Stadium‘s Disco Two opener “Desecration Smile,” which found Kiedis and Frusciante trading Beach Boys-style vocals. But their in-your-face funk was showcased on the extended performance of “Give It Away” that closed the show. The dual personalities of the foursome united effortlessly on the new album’s “Tell Me Baby,” a blend of Kiedis rapping over a funk backing and an irresistible pop chorus.
As in the video for “Dani California,” which takes the Chili Peppers through several decades of music, playing the part of heroes from Parliament/Funkadelic to Nirvana, the band may be at its genre-bending peak.