Red Hot Chili Peppers at Bonnaroo
The audience was electric with anticipation as the Red Hot Chili Peppers took the stage just after 10 p.m. at Bonnaroo Saturday.
With American tours sometimes four and five years apart from each other, and a history of long, massive international tours, Bonnaroo fans were lucky to have caught the Chili Peppers in the U.S., overflowing with energy from their January release I’m With You.
For the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the show was a chance to introduce its newest members – guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, who replaced longtime Chili Pepper John Frusciante, and Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco – stretch out as a band and break out some classic songs that aren’t often performed.
The show kicked off with the tribal drumbeat of I’m With You’s “Monarchy of Roses.” When the thump of Flea’s bass kicked in for the song’s funky pre-chorus, the crowd exploded as the Peppers jumped around stage like they were still teenagers trying to make it in some small Los Angeles club.
What followed was a high-energy show heavy on the jamming, with the Chili Peppers extending the intros or outros in nearly every song. They utilized the ample space during songs to jump around and dance, but during jams the band would often get right in each other’s faces, with Klinghoffer and Flea sometimes on the ground, instruments nearly touching.
The band improvised almost telepathically with highly refined chemistry. The festival atmosphere clearly brought out some oomph in the band that the stadiums they usually play in the U.S. doesn’t inspire.
The early part of the show became a sing-along as RHCP blew through hits like “Can’t Stop,” “Dani California” and “Scar Tissue.” Klinghoffer, who toured with the Chili Peppers as a second guitarist on its previous tour and collaborated with Frusciante in several other capacities, stuck to his predecessor’s rhythm guitar and harmony vocals, and used Frusciante’s melodies as jumping off points for his own guitar solos.
Throughout the show, Refosco added his own polyrhythmic textures to RHCP songs new and old. He locked in perfectly with drummer Chad Smith, adding layers of African and South American rhythms to Smith’s rock solid drumming, and making the show’s climaxes just that much more epic.
The band jumped around its recent catalog, playing “Look Around” from I’m With You, “Throw Away Your Television” from 2002’s By the Way, “Charlie” from 2006’s Stadium Arcadium, “Rain Dance Maggie” from I’m With You and hyper-funk song “Right on Time” from 1999’s Californication.
The band didn’t touch 1995’s One Hot Minute, which featured funk anthem “Aeroplane” among others. That album, the only in the RHCP catalog to feature Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, was made during Frsuciante’s first departure form the band. That time seems to be quietly regarded as the lost years for the Peppers, who fired Navarro after five years with him.
Klinghoffer proved himself a worthy protégé of John Frusciante as RHCP broke out “If You Have to Ask,” a P-Funk inspired rap-heavy funk song from 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The song segued into a jam that ended on a high-speed Hendrix riff, essentially bringing the Chili Peppers guitarist lineup full circle.
Not only is Hendrix an obvious influence on Frusciante and Klinghoffer’s playing, but the echoes of Jimi’s psychedelic blues chops can be heard in original RHCP guitarist Hillel Slovak. He influenced Frusciante, a huge fan of the Peppers prior to joining the band, who in turn collaborated with and clearly left a musical mark on Klinghoffer.
“Factory of Faith” was followed by a beautiful Bonnaroo moment when it seemed as if they entire crowd was singing “Under the Bridge” with Anthony Kiedis. To bring the energy back up, the band played its rocked out cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” which the band recorded on 1989’s Mother’s Milk. The set ended with two spacey jams that turned into fan favorites “Californication” and “By the Way.”
The encore started with Refosco, who would soon be trading off with Smith. After some serious percussion jamming, Klinghoffer joined in. Before picking up his bass, Flea came out on stage walking gracefully on his hands for a good part of the jam. The band busted into another seldom-performed classic from Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the hard rocking “Suck My Kiss.” After playing new song “Ethiopia,” the band closed with an animated performance of “Give it Away.”
The band turned the end of the song into yet another epic improvisational section. And when it seemed like it was over, Flea kept playing his bass, giving the band one more chance to morph soft, melodic sounds into hard rocking riffs.
There’s something to be said about taking a band that’s used to playing arenas and outdoor pavilions in America and dropping them on Bonnaroo, one of the country’s premier music festivals. The Red Hot Chili Peppers did not take this opportunity and responsibility lightly, digging into their catalog, pulling out all their musical tricks and playing a show that should definitely go down in RHCP history as one of the most ambitious, tight, high-energy shows the band has played.
Although the band lost an otherworldly presence when John Frusciante left the band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are clearly moving forward full force.
Monarchy of Roses
Throw Away Your Television
Rain Dance Maggie
Right on Time
If You Have to Ask
Factory of Faith
Under the Bridge
By the Way
Suck My Kiss
Give it Away