Review: Red Hot Chili Peppers bounce, thrash through age-defying show at Tampa's Amalie Arena
If you squinted your eyes, you might’ve noticed Flea flicking some stiffness from his wrists. You might’ve spotted Anthony Kiedis or Chad Smith huffing a little with hands upon hips.
But that’s if you watched really closely. Otherwise, if you were among the 15,000-plus fans at Tampa’s Amalie Arena Thursday night, you’d have had a hard time telling the Red Hot Chili Peppers of 2017 from their younger, sweatier selves.
With Kiedis, Flea and Smith in their mid-50s, and whippersnapper guitarist Josh Klinghoffer pushing 40, the Chili Peppers these days are pulling back only a little from the most athletic roadshow in rock. No one’s rocking tube socks anymore, but with all the incessant thrashing, leaping, pogoing and hand-walking on stage in Tampa, the Chilis don’t look done getting funky.
Kicking things off with a wild whoop from Flea and a bass-slapping jam sesh – one of a handful on the night – the Chilis whirled into action with a wild Around the World and pounding Dani California so bouncy that Flea had to pause afterward to re-tie his sneakers.
Then came a few of the dank West Coast grooves that have come to define the punk-funk masters this millennium: A breezy, gliding The Zephyr Song, a slick and soulful Dark Necessities, a meditative Hard to Concentrate.
And then, just when the house was getting all dad-rocked out, the Chilis hit ‘em with a slobberknocker: 1987’s punk-rap cyclone Me and My Friends, a blast from the Peppers’ weird, wild past that sounded like a whole new band.
The group’s musical muses were all over the place, swerving from slick, danceable synth-funk like Go Robot to the thundering Stooges- and Funkadelic-referencing Detroit to the slinky psychedelia of underrated gem Soul to Squeeze. They left more than a few giant hits on the table (no Under the Bridge? really?), but the setlist showcased the depth of their catalog and mastery of their craft, especially whenever Flea and Klinghoffer paired off for snippets of gnarly jams and solos.
As he spit and snapped out his breakneck rubber-tongued vocals, Kiedis skipped and strutted circles around she stage, working up enough of a sweat to trade his shirt for his six-pack midway through the set. Flea, rocking a cheetah-spotted dye job, was even more in motion, bouncing as if wearing moon boots and hand-walking out for the show’s encore.
All of it took place beneath a fantastical light display, an undulating ceiling of dangling, glowing cylinders that rose and fell and changed colors by the song. While not exactly new – Drake took a similar rig on tour last summer – it’s still a mesmerizing effect, perhaps even more from up high than down below.
Light shows aside, did the Chilis get as weird as they used to back in their punk-funk heyday? Nah. These are older, gentler Chili Peppers, distinguished elder statemen of rock, men who cordially invited former drummer Jack Irons to kick off the night with a 20-minute solo set.
The group that really brought the battiness was opening act Babymetal, a Japanese pop-metal phenomenon combining an assembly-line girl group with white-robed thrash metal demons. Technically engrossing, in terms of both metal musicianship and ritualistic choreographic discipline, it was exactly the sort of fantastical freak show that might've accompanied the Chilis on some sweaty Lollapalooza back in the day. The heck if they didn't have the arena lit up and singing on their anthemic Karate.
Then again, so did the Chilis on their two meatiest cuts from 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Suck My Kiss and closer Give It Away. Between Flea’s rumbling bass and Smith’s explosive drums, the latter jam rattled the arena like stampeding gorillas, churning fans into a bellowing frenzy.
No one was huffing and puffing through that one, especially not the Chili Peppers. They may be getting older, but you can’t see them eyeing the finish line yet. Not even if you squint.
-- Jay Cridlin