Red Hot Chili Peppers slow to catch fire

By Rebecca Barry Hill

It seems fitting that a band with such a chequered history should help to break in Auckland's newest stadium. Both the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Vector Arena were a long time in the making, both were dogged by serious health issues, and both made it through the other side as highly functional, if slightly sterile, cash-mongers.

Despite the long bar queues and the faint zing of reverb that might have been masked had someone simply turned up the volume, the arena stood up to the first of the Peppers' two sell-out gigs.

A nice touch were the big screens above the stage showing close-ups on each band member, as the backdrop blazed behind them. And there's something to be said for a venue that allows easy visual access in every direction, even if their fans are starting to need glasses to see that far.

That they are a certain generation's band felt evident for much of the Californians' set, as it veered between pure, funk-driven exhilaration and tired, joyless rote-playing.

No one expects the band to jump around madly like they used to, but we did deserve more raw passion than what was delivered in the first half.

That was mainly down to a primly dressed, expressionless Anthony Kiedis, who seemed to be going through the motions. It's hard to get excited watching a rock star who doesn't appear to get off on the thrill of a screaming crowd any more.

At first, his complacent mood rubbed off on the band. Opening with Can't Stop, they then made their way through the girl-friendly melodic hits, Dani California and Scar Tissue, sounding, well, just like they do on the radio.

It wasn't until the night's biggest star, guitarist John Frusciante, let rip at the end of Throw Away Your Television that the Chilis tasted truly spicy.

Other scorching moments included Flea's exceptional riffing on Suck My Kiss and the Stevie Wonder cover, Higher Ground, a meaty rendition of By the Way, and the still-fresh-sounding Charlie and Snow from last year's Stadium Arcadium album.

Kiedis seemed perfectly happy that the night belonged to the rhythm section (including an equally casual Chad Smith on drums), even if two of their ghost players didn't get an introduction.

That meant Frusciante had the chance to play a mesmerising solo, and he and Flea showed their powerful chemistry in a series of aerobic jam sessions.

The best one came in the encore, when Kiedis had left the stage, and touched on dub-reggae and cosmic swamp rock, care of Frusciante's meddling with the effects.

Yes, it was long and a little indulgent, a bit like the last album. But if anything, it proved the Chilis can still leave a red-hot impression, even if the fire has burned out for one of them.

Review

* Who: Red Hot Chili Peppers

* Where: Vector Arena

* Reviewer: Rebecca Barry

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