The Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of those rare bands that appear unaffected by life’s harsher situations. As their Saturday headlining performance on Lollapalooza’s Red Bull Sound Stage clearly demonstrated, dangerous weather, a strong fecal smell arising from the muddy outdoor pit, and middle age didn’t prevent the veteran rock act from showing Chicago that their sound is everlasting.
With an audience continuously growing around the stage for the three hours leading to the set, the performance quickly became the most attended of the evening, if not the fest itself.
The Chili Peppers have been through a lot. Founder and guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a heroin overdose five years after the bands inception. John Frusciante, the guitarist performing on many of the group’s biggest hits, suffered years of addiction, quit the band, rejoined, and quit again. Lead singer Anthony Keidis had his own problems with heroin. Despite the setbacks, the group has come a long way since L.A.’s 1983 underground music scene, producing a slew of successful albums, the hits from which trickled their energetic set. The band’s most recent addition, 32-year old guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, gracefully executed the band’s tracks that came before his time, note for note, as well as those from 2011’s I’m With You, recorded and written by the new lineup.
The almost literally all-ages audience welcomed Klinghoffer, a virtuoso and established musician without the aid of Frusciante’s shadow, as if he were the hero behind favorite’s like “Suck My Kiss” and “Under the Bridge”. That is not to say the reception to songs from ”I’m With You” was lukewarm. Contrarily, a consistently upbeat, fast-paced, and simultaneously laid-back hippie vibe persisted without interruption for the duration of the set. Maybe the intimidatingly massive crowd took Flea’s stoner-ish assessment about love prevailing to heart.
Despite the help of an audience too large for walking space, a stage-setup that’s net worth is more than most small-scale bands make in a lifetime, and that dramatic flair that comes with performing on the curtails of disastrous weather, the performance was far from the band’s best.
The biggest detriment to the stage show was a lack of group chemistry. The dynamic that made their good music great was Frusciante’s and Flea’s tendency to play off one another, sounding like one harmonious instrument rather than a bass and guitar, respectively. Adding to this spectacle was the excitement conveyed by members of the band –without Frusciante, Flea looked more like a child who had too much sugar rather than someone who enjoys what they do. Keidis’ signature removal of his shirt seemed more amusing and middle-aged than sexy, making one wonder, why does he still do that? Chad Smith, tight as ever behind the drums, no longer seemed exciting enough to be compared to Will Farrell.
Of course, one cannot reasonably blame Klinghoffer for every of the band’s fault. After all, Frusciante has 20 years of Chili Peppers performances over him. The two are simply different guitar players – Frusciante, the wacky funk master who made and mastered his own style rather than becoming the best at standards; Klinghoffer, an incredibly talented, well rounded, and impressively young musician who can probably replicate his predecessor’s style better than any guitarist on the planet.
From this performance, we see that no matter what the years may bring – perhaps a lacking record, a slower live show, Keidis assuming the Jagger-like look of a cool, somewhat strange grandfather rather than a youthful sex symbol – the Chili Peppers have left a legacy. By the look, sound, and ever-expanding size of the audience – in age, too – their mark on music will prove everlasting.