Red Hot Chili Peppers
Derwent Entertainment Centre, Hobart TAS
February 17th, 2019
It’s been 28 long years. When I first started listening to them, the Berlin Wall had only just fallen and I was barely able to walk. But finally, last night, I crossed another name off of my list. To make it even more of a coup, it was their first time to Tasmania in a career that spans over three decades.
So, what does a Red Hot Chili Peppers show actually entail? Noise. Lots of it. And people. The Derwent Entertainment Centre was filled to the rafters with fans abuzz at the idea of seeing a band who haven’t graced our shores in any headline capacity for over a decade. The queues swelled as they spilled out into the streets around the building. But once the limelight hit the stage, none of it really mattered.
After starting with a jam number between Chad Smith, Flea, and Josh Klinghoffer, they segued into ‘Can’t Stop’, one of their most played numbers (and a typical opener for their sets). Early on, it set the expectation for what we’d be seeing through the next couple of hours pretty well. It was also easy to see just how skilled as players they are — Flea and Chad especially, both of whom gave us various embellishments and flourishes not present on the records. When the lights dimmed and Flea stepped forward to the mic for a rendition of ‘Pea’ (a surprising choice for so early in the set, but well received nonetheless) complete with the entire audience in chorus singing the phrase, “So fucking what?” at top volume, it started to be obvious that they’d suffered a catastrophic technical failure on the stage. Such was the impact that it is a feature on national news in the cold light of the next day.
To pass the time, Flea continued to lead the crowd with such antics as walking across the stage on his hands, telling one-liners about cashew cheese (including comedic drum fills from Chad), and offering an almost painful rendition of Captain Beefheart‘s ‘Orange Claw Hammer’. In all, we sat stirring for nearly 20 minutes, something that left the crowd particularly anxious. Being that this was the biggest show Tasmania has hosted in, oh… ever? It wasn’t an ideal turn of events.
Driven by a bunch of loud chanting and the punters leaving the theatre to get refreshments (read: alcohol by the fistful), we finally had power return to the stage. First on the ticket for round 2? ‘Dani California’ – and a sterling effort of it at that. The delay had worked the crowd into a buzz, so when the first drums hit, the entire venue was out of their seats in unison and screaming the chorus. The set marched on through old and new, touching on a number of classics and fan favourites (‘Higher Ground’, ‘Zephyr Song’, ‘By The Way’). Anthony still moves across the stage like he was exhumed from an iceberg, circa 1993, parading across the stage in a flurry of twists and pulses. It’s quite uncanny seeing his performance, by comparison, to film clips from the era when they first found their fame, about all that’s changed is a moustache. Actually, most of the band are very much in that position.
After the power outage, I’m not sure they ever really fully regained their mojo that they clearly had leading into the set. The crowd were certainly in a state of weird — the prevailing vibe across the venue was one which was difficult to fully quantify. Sort of… frustrated? I don’t know. But it became feverish every single time a new song came across the speakers. The crowd fell silent and still, and I think the band could tell.
After a few more tunes, including The Stooges‘ ‘Search and Destroy’ (a fitting song given Anthony’s passing resemblance to the undisputed King of Rock and Roll, Iggy Pop – and one of my favourite songs of all time), it started to become obvious that Josh wasn’t so much a replacement for John Frusciante, so much as he was trying to be John. The solos were all covered in the same effects as ‘Dani California’ and he moved around as he played just like John did in the ‘Can’t Stop’ film clip — for the first few songs it was okay, but eventually it became a glaringly obvious pain point. Perhaps it’s just me being a nostalgic wanker? Who knows. But I feel like filling somebody’s position shouldn’t also involve trying to wear their damned shoes. Which is sad, because he’s clearly a talented musician in his own right and certainly deserves to share the stage with the others.
As the night wore on, the integral role Flea plays in holding the show together was easy to see. Although Anthony is the man with the microphone, Flea is the guy with the energy that the crowd really connects with. He solidified that point with starting nearly every song in the limelight playing a funky solo, only to give way to the whole band coming in. Eventually, their set was up, and they left the stage. In the dark, after the lights had dropped, the crowd, inexplicably, began chanting the chorus to Tag Team‘s ‘Whoomp! There It Is’? I don’t quite get the connection, but we’ll go with it. Returning to the stage after a short interlude, they gave us a new song as a first encore. It… did not go great, as encores go. The crowd, predictably, seemed stunned more than amused.
To round out the night, Anthony climbed atop Flea’s speaker stack and so began one of the highlights of the night — ‘Give It Away’. Had this been the only song of the evening? I think things would’ve been okay. It was an excellent rendition, and certainly a tidy way to round out the set.
I must confess, the feeling I left the venue with was one that was slightly bittersweet. On one hand, I’d seen one of my favourite bands after many years of wanting to do so. They played a bunch of my favourite songs from their collection, and they played them well. But there was just… something. I don’t know. But I know I wasn’t the only one who left the venue feeling a touch of… je ne sais quoi. It certainly wasn’t a bad show, but then, I’m not certain it was the band at their peak (even if the individuals it comprises of were, if that makes sense). First show jitters? Who knows.
Onwards, boys. Hopefully the next shows go more smoothly.
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