For rock stars, it seemed to me that once you hit age 40, you are dead to the world. Not so for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a band made up mostly of men pushing 50, who released their tenth studio album I’m With You late last year. The Chili Peppers kicked off their U.S. tour in Florida on Mar. 29 at the Tampa Bay Forum and proved that good music, like sex and drugs, is timeless.
And like sex and drugs, a good show from a long-standing band ought to have new treats, the unexpected and also some familiarity to get you comfortable — the missionary position, the old rush, then suddenly some back-page Kama Sutra pose and an overdose you couldn’t have planned on, but of which you can’t deny the life-affirming experience. The Chili Peppers gave it their all with a setlist that included “Brendan’s Death Song,” “Look Around” and “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie,” all off their new album, as well as older hits such as “Under the Bridge,” “Suck My Kiss,” “Can’t Stop” and “By the Way.” A few times, they played on stage in what appeared to be band-jam spontaneity, though like the fake orgasm or hot-shot, part of you unwillingly knew it was rehearsed.
Two songs into the set, band members pulled over their heads the hoods of black sweatshirts bearing the words “Ode to Trayvon/Stand What Ground,” in tribute to Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old victim of a license-to-kill law. After a moment of their silence matched with a cheer of support from the audience, the band broke out into “Scar Tissue.”
The backdrop to the band was a screen showing diverse visuals, from rave-worthy embroideries of light to cartoon animations to the real-time images of audience and band members. During “Californication,” pills prettier than Fruity Pebbles cascaded down the screen, a waterfall of quick fixes. Then prescription bottles rotated in and out of focus, one for Beauty, one for Confidence, one for Serenity and one for Eternal Youth — the dream, as prescribed by eager professionals, encapsulated for denial of the sour stuff of human life. I wanted it all.
The tour was set to begin in January but was pushed back due to lead singer Anthony Kiedis’ foot surgery. Out of empathy or age, most audience members, even those on the floor level, remained dutifully rigid for the entire show. As for me, one level above the stage, with less space to maneuver than in a public toilet stall, I danced (“danced”) non-stop. If you look it up on YouTube, I’m probably under “pre-teen goes into fit from transmitted vibrations.” Anyway, you should never watch me dance.
The I’m With You album and tour are the first to feature Josh Klinghoffer, the youngest Chili Pepper by nearly two decades, as the lead guitarist. Klinghoffer stepped in after former guitarist Josh Frusciante left the band to pursue other musical projects. While bassist Michael “Flea” Balzary and Kiedis addressed the crowd between songs, Klinghoffer hung back, showing humbleness or maybe nervousness. Chad Smith, as it usually goes with drummers, didn’t speak to the audience during the scant down time of the Red Hot show.
After Flea told us all how much he and the others loved us, the band left the stage. But following a storm of cheers, they came back. At concerts, if you yell loud enough, they almost always come back. The encore included two of their most contagious earworms, “Around the World” and “Give it Away,” then ended with another unrecognizable instrumental.
I’m planning a trip to see them in another part of the U.S. for this same tour. They won’t be around much longer, because unlike good music, sex and drugs, aging men are unmarketable, therefore not timeless.
Evaluation: Strong Sat.