You notice patterns and tendencies when you cover the Red Hot Chili Peppers headlining three music festivals in the space of five years. And it turns out the most illuminating piece of intel comes from singer Anthony Kiedis’ choice in head gear.
When the band headlined Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2012 Kiedis took the stage wearing a black-and-white, trucker-style hat for the hardcore punk band Off!, which at the time seemed apt since that young Los Angeles band had plenty of buzz and it made sense that the veteran rocker would want to align himself with a newer, hip act.
The hat got tossed into the crowd early in that set, so it was hard to not notice nine months later when the band headlined the Orion Festival in Detroit that Kiedis had another new white and black Off! hat on his head to start off that show as well. And, just like in 2012, that hat found its way onto an audience member’s head fairly quickly.
Fast forward to four years later and, sure enough, when Kiedis joined bandmates Flea, Chad Smith and Josh Klinghoffer on stage for their Saturday night headliner set the singer had yet another sterling new Off! hat atop his head that was turned backward by second song “Dani California” and tossed into the crowd by the next song.
From this we learn a couple things.
First, that somewhere in the greater Los Angeles area the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers almost certainly has warehouse space solely dedicated to the storage of perhaps hundreds of mesh hats from a punk band that at this point hasn’t been active in three years.
Second, that for all the freaky style-y, party guy personas the band’s core members have cultivated over their more than 30 years together, there’s a veteran performer calculation going on with each of them to maximize their connection with an audience for whom their string of alternative rock hits represent something close to a lifetime soundtrack.
That is not necessarily a bad thing. It certainly does strip away some of the romanticism and appearance of spontaneity that fans and those in show business love to project onto artists. But it also shows the care and attention that goes into making a 90-plus-minute performance feel like far more than live band karaoke.
Saturday’s set featured plenty of other moments that illustrated how carefully the band constructed the show, which was heavier than normal on deep album cuts and material from its most-recent album “The Getaway,” ie, the one that not many people have bought or listened to.
That meant adding in new looks and variety amidst the more unfamiliar material to keep the attention of the many thousands gathered in front of them for their 95 minutes on stage. A series of nearly a dozen short instrumental explorations between various combinations of Flea, Smith and Klinghoffer during song breaks gave the audience a chance to breathe and refocus their attention on the players. Whether they were short and loud or longer and sparse – as was a nearly four-minute bass/guitar interlude that saw Flea and Klinghoffer pushing and playing of each other expertly – these breaks became their own part of the show, and also at up nearly 20 minutes of set time.
Another new look came with the addition of keyboards, an auxiliary percussionist and even a second bass player on “Go Robot,” which saw the stage packed with seven members in a marked contrast to much of the band’s history as a lean four-man funk/punk powerhouse. And having Klinghoffer open the encore solo for an emotional playing of Tom Petty’s “A Face In The Crowd” was a move that was both sincere and savvy.
Of course a near riot would’ve ensued without running through a portion of the band’s somewhat tough to fathom string of hits, some of which have shifted in color and tone through decades of life performance. That meant “Soul To Squeeze” felt more foreboding instead of melancholy, “Suck My Kiss” featured more of a smooth groove instead of its normal staccato stomp and set closer “Give It Away” felt a half beat slower and more deliberate, perhaps in part to let Kiedis exercise better vocal control and preservation.
Even with minor alterations those songs and other well-known favorites did their job and then some, with the band adjusting its pace and power throughout to keep monotony from ever coming close to setting in. Cleary, these guys are professionals when it comes to getting a crowd in the palm of their hands.
And if that meant another Off! hat making a brief appearance near the end of the night before quickly meeting the same fate as its early show counterpart – all so Kiedis could shamelessly drop an “Austin, my hats off to you” line on the crowd – well, there’s a reason these guys have been on top for as long as they have.
I Wanna Be Your Dog (partial Stooges cover)
Right On Time
Suck My Kiss
Soul To Squeeze
By The Way
A Face In The Crowd (Tom Petty Cover)
Give It Away