TAMPA — Oh, to be middle-aged and Flea. The Red Hot Chili Peppers' mighty mite bassist thrashed, flexed and flailed on the stage at the Tampa Bay Times Forum Thursday as if in complete bratty denial that he turns 50 this fall.
The blue-haired shirtless madman had no choice really. The SoCal punk-funk crew has always been built on youthful recklessness and, well, tube socks on their naughty bits. Maturity was never in the game plan.
Of course, keeping Father Time at bay is easier said than done. This wasn't supposed to be RHCP's kickoff date of a U.S. tour for new album I'm With You. But lead singer Anthony Kiedis needed foot surgery after a European swing. (He presumably also needed more time to grow a heinous porn mustache.)
As a result of a hobbled frontman — and maybe from beating themselves up for your pleasure for 30 years — the Peppers proved to be sturdy, if safe, party-throwers for almost two hours, a band that's no longer incendiary but still burns pretty well.
After an opening set by club griot Santigold, a yelping genre-smoosher who's no doubt a No. 1 star on Mars, the quartet, plus a couple of backing mates, made an instant turgid racket with new song Monarchy of Roses. Next, Flea hip-thrusted the start of pseudo-rap breakdown Can't Stop. If you craved subtlety, well, wrong room, dude. That much hasn't changed, and the solid crowd of 12,882 sounded happy for the sludge.
Although the Peppers always seemed better suited for burning down the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame than joining it, they'll do just that in a couple of weeks. It's a curious tribute to their legacy. Not that they don't deserve to get in — debate among yourselves — but when did they become old enough to be eligible?
Much like fellow inductees Guns 'N Roses, RHCP (born in 1983) shows are now missing a key ingredient: the danger that at any second, something is going to go awesomely off the rails. That's not for a lack of effort, mind you, as drummer Chad Smith and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer brought a frenzied energy. And the band still isn't afraid to make a statement. Before Scar Tissue, they donned black hoodies emblazoned with "Ode to Trayvon: Stand What Ground."
Riding Flea's meaty grooves, RHCP dutifully chugged through the goodies like the elder statesmen they've become. "Hey Flea, this is one of my favorite songs to dance to," said the 49-year-old Kiedis. "But since I have a [bleeped] up foot, I need you to dance for me." And with that, they spat out the new Look Around, during which no one really danced much at all. Suck My Kiss is no longer as nasty as it wants to be, but it's still a raucously fun song.
To juice the drama, video screens were everywhere, including, wildly enough, the stage itself plus shape-shifting gizmos that expanded overhead like something out of The Matrix. The show lost momentum in its midsection— Under the Bridge has always been a dull moaner — but the place just about exploded for a trademark take on Stevie Wonder's Higher Ground.
After By the Way, the band returned for a jammy encore that included the id-boosting Give It Away. "This is our first show after two months, and we might be a little rusty," said Flea. "But we're doing alright." As for his earlier invitation to a "naked pool party" back at his hotel, he didn't say. If he needed a nap instead, who could blame him?
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.