Over 15 years after pioneering rap-rock, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have refined themselves into a band that is always explosive yet often just as breezy and melodic. Their two-hour concert at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Thursday night featured their gradual and incredibly successful musical evolution. It was an eclectic stew of rock showmanship, bittersweet soul, funky rhythms and frantic punk.
Musically, the best songs were those off their latest album, By The Way. Guitarist John Frusciante’s spiraling lines and Beach Boys-esque background vocals are the core of that album, and they were on full display throughout the show. They propelled early performances of “Scar Tissue” and “The Zephyr Song” to new heights. “Parallel Universe” featured a remarkably fluid, soaring solo while Flea and singer Anthony Kiedis squared off as if to duel, legs spread wide, at the center of the stage in front of four flashing video screens.
Kiedis, like bassist Flea and drummer Chad Smith, is over 40 years old now. There was no question that age would slow him down. Manically delivering one aerobic performance after another, Kiedis jumped, kicked and most of all, leaned through his perfect arena rock star act. If his age forced him to rest every few songs, the crowd was only rewarded. The interplay between Frusciante and Flea was flawless, and often they, along with Smith, would jam out enjoyable and interesting instrumentals or snippets of covers like Kiss’ appropriate “Detroit Rock City” in between their own tunes with Kiedis off the stage.
The show was both innovative and familiar. “Don’t Forget Me” took a slow and simple rhythmic bass line from Flea, mixed it with claps of thunder from Smith, and eventually burst into a screaming vocal over Frusciante’s spacey siren-like guitar wails. “Can’t Stop” took extra advantage of it’s greatest asset, the build-up to its razor sharp riff. An encore performance of “Under The Bridge” was as triumphant as it should have been, the whole crowd swaying and singing to what is arguably one of the finest rock songs of the ’90s.
The pre-encore show ended with a stark example of the two vibes which have defined the Chili Peppers’ career. “Venice Queen” is awash in what sounds and feels like the sea along California’s coast. It sweetly ends with repeated moaning proclamations of “love, my friend” over acoustic guitar that invites emotional reflection. “Give It Away” is a raucous, rap and bass-driven funk party that invites intoxicated head banging. They sounded perfect together.