The summer of mega-concerts in South Florida rolled on this past Tuesday night with an absolutely massive show at Hard Rock Stadium, featuring an eclectic bill of alternative, funk and rock acts spanning the past 40 years of popular music history.
Beginning early—almost certainly too early—with a Thundercat appearance tragically scheduled against South Florida’s loathsome rush hour traffic, precious few attendees were able to enjoy the Los Angeles-based bass virtuoso’s brief set of yacht rock-inflected funk and R&B tunes. Those who were in attendance were treated to a brief yet captivating performance that saw Thundercat (real name Stephen Bruner) let his musical freak flag fly with alternative-funk bangers like “Dragonball Durag” and modern classic “Them Changes.”
Thundercat was followed by a quick set from early-aughts NYC icons the Strokes, a group in the midst of something of a renaissance following its most recent LP and late-career hit The New Abnormal. Personally, I’ve never quite been able to pin down the Strokes (or their mercurial frontman), and if a quote from Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis is allowed to be entered into evidence, then I’m not the only one: “We love the Strokes. Good bunch of fellows. Haven’t been able to pin down Julian, though.” Neither have we, Anthony.
After taking the stage to the last dregs of daylight and a semi-full crowd still reeling from the nightmarish experience of finding parking and making it into the stadium, the quintet ripped through a set that was perilously close to being, to borrow a phrase from music-head lore, “all killer, no filler.” Cuts like “Barely Legal,” “Juicebox,” “Hard to Explain,” and “Someday” still managed to sound as vital as they were upon their initial release close to two decades ago, newer cuts like “The Adults are Talking” stood tall next to older material, and it was all topped off by a compelling rendition of indie all-timer “Reptilia.”
Having just returned to South Florida from a visit to Southern California to attend Goldenvoice’s This Ain’t No Picnic festival—headlined by the Strokes—I was struck by how much better the band sounded in the almost-antagonistic light of an opening set at a stadium on a Tuesday night. In front of tens of thousands of adoring fans just 48 hours earlier in Pasadena, they had sounded droll, disinterested, positively anemic during their festival-closing set. And yet here, in front of a half-full crowd that was ostensibly just waiting for the headliner to come out, they sounded more energized and vital than I had seen them in years. Perhaps this is a group better served keeping a chip on its own shoulder.
After a mercifully brief set change between acts, the Red Hot Chili Peppers emerged just before 9 p.m. with an extended intro jam—a staple of the group’s shows, especially when beloved guitarist and canonically core member John Fruisciante is in tow. This improvisational introduction was indicative of what was to come; frequently throughout the evening the group’s instrumentalists would be left to their own devices to fill time between songs, to varying levels of success.
Each of the band’s four core members (excepting one backup musician who shared the stage with them) had his own moment to shine, though not one of them seemed interested in subverting any preconceived notions. Frusicante’s indelible guitar solos shined throughout the evening, even if he wasn’t able to dispel the notion that his return to the group was motivated more by financial factors than a true passion for its catalog. Legendary bassist Flea’s low-end acrobatics were as imposing as ever, even on a rare night when he was not the most talented bassist to grace the stage (see above: Thundercat). Drummer and part-time Will Ferrell impersonator Chad Smith rocked his trademark backwards hat and kept the beat steady throughout the show, adding on flourishes of tom fills throughout the set and an early drum solo to introduce the 2006 hit “Dani California.” Lead vocalist Anthony Kiedis was, well… himself. Though his love-it-or-hate-it style of pseudo-scatting did rear its ugly head at points throughout the night, the group’s longtime frontman was nothing if not true to form, with nary a vocal misstep to be heard as he bounced around the stage.
And regardless of my prior assertion that Frusicante has inserted himself back into the RHCP fold as something of a cash-grab, it’s clear both that the group has immaculate chemistry and that its other three members are thrilled to have him back. He shared intimate moments with both Flea and Smith during different jam sessions, and following one song Kiedis felt the need to tell the crowd “that was a genuine smile you saw on my face while John was playing that solo.”
The headlining set list was strong, if not impeccable. After nearly 40 years of making music and crafting plenty of hits, it was inevitable that some fan-favorites would be left out of the show, although the lack of certain smash-hits like “Can’t Stop” and “Under the Bridge” struck me as particularly egregious omissions. Though each of the tracks from this year’s Unlimited Love fizzled save for “Black Summer,” which jumped off the stage with surprising aplomb, the set list was riddled with effective choices like “Suck My Kiss,” “Throw Away Your Television” and the obligatory “Give It Away” before wrapping up with an electric rendition of “By the Way.”
And yet, for all of the evening’s jubilant moments, the Red Hot Chili Peppers still seem to be a band vying desperately to be taken seriously even amidst world-conquering levels of success. Choosing two critically acclaimed support acts and inserting snippets of prestige music like the Clash’s “London Calling” into the set do not cancel out the band’s more ridiculous, or even cringe-worthy, tendencies. It’s no secret that the Chili Peppers are capable of providing a captivating, sometimes-provocative good time. It’s just becoming more clear as the group approaches its 40th anniversary that once the dust settles after the show, that good time is relatively vapid.