Monday 3 July 2006

take a look it's on display for you....

Red Hot Chili Peppers @ The Ricoh Arena, Coventry - 2nd July 2006

At some point last Friday, I was asked by a colleague of mine if I had anything planned for the weekend. When I mentioned that I was going to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers, she raised her eyebrows at me in mild surprise and suggested that I must be pretty down with the kids. Well, perhaps that's true, but as I bought my first Red Hot Chili Peppers album ("Mother's Milk") in 1989 and last saw them live at the Reading Festival in 1994, this seemed like a slightly odd remark. Yes, the RHCPs are selling as many records now as they have at any other point in their career, but they have been around for ages (they formed in 1983, and Flea and Anthony Kiedis are now both 43 years old).

Indeed, when I first started listening to the band, they were still very much in the middle of the slap bass / socks on cocks era of their development. "Mother's Milk" showed the first tentative signs that the band might have a little more to offer, and marked the debut of John Frusciante as the band's guitarist, but I was forced to go backwards to "The Uplift Mofo Party Plan" to hear more material. I was in the grips of my rock phase at the time, and this shouty, bass-slapping rock wasn't a million miles away from Faith No More, so I was happy enough. It wasn't until the release of "Blood Sugar Sex Magik" that I realised what a fantastic band they were becoming. The shouty bass workouts are still there, but songs like "Under the Bridge" and "I Could Have Lied" in particular showed depths of songwriting skills that weren't immediately apparent elsewhere ("Special Secret Song Inside" being a particular low point).

The Frusciante-less "One Hot Minute" aside, it has pretty much been onwards and upwards for the Chilis since then. Each successive album has seen the band getting better and better, and the muscular rock of old is slowly being replaced by songs with an almost Beach Boys-like grasp of melody. "Californication" was followed by their commerical high water mark,"By The Way", and the double album "Stadium Arcadium" was released to ecstatic reviews earlier this year.

To be honest, I haven't been grabbed by the new album anywhere near as much as I have been by any of the last two. A double album smacks to me of a lack of quality control, and even if this isn't the case, it's a hell of a lot of material to get to grips with, and I still haven't managed to listen to the whole thing through more than a couple of times. Still. It is now 12 years since I last saw the band live, so I thought it was high time that I bought myself some tickets and saw them play their new stuff.

Dave Navarro was still in the band the last time I saw them, and although this was the tour when they had the lightbulb suits and the flaming helmets, the showmanship couldn't quite conceal the fact that the material (that later became "One Hot Minute") was not quite up to standard. I was actually quite excited to be finally be going to see them play again.

I had the usual pantomime with ticketmaster: I bought the tickets months in advance of the gig, but the tickets weren't sent out until the last minute, and of course I was at work when they tried to deliver them (£4 booking fee per ticket! outrageous.) After I'd sorted that out, I was then emailed by the agency telling me that there would be a parking exclusion zone for a couple of miles around the stadium and I would need to book car parking in advance. Fine. I contacted the arena only to find that they weren't there and they would call me back. 5 days until the concert. When they did ring me, it was to tell me that I would need to send them a cheque for the parking.


Anyway. All sorted in time and off we trot on Sunday afternoon. The Ricoh Arena is a fairly new stadium built to house the mighty Coventry City. As you might expect, it was exactly like every other new stadium you've ever been to. We arrived in time to catch the end of the first support band ("!!!" - average) and to see the whole of the set by Dirty Pretty Things (not bad, but they've definitely listened to too many Clash records). I spent much of the time marvelling at the sheer diversity of the crowd. As you'd expect from a band that has been around as long as the Chilis there was a huge mixture of people. Lots of tattooed rockers - sure - but also lots of girls in bikini tops, lots of kids and a rather sizeable chav contingent. There was a gang of this latter bunch standing right in front of us. They seemed to find it amusing throwing whatever they could lay their hands on into the crowd - beer bottles in the main (some fuller than others), but also several half-eaten ice creams got chucked as well. I have to say that I did laugh quite hard when one of these idiots got hit square on the head by a half-full bottle that someone else had chucked forwards. I hope if was full of piss.

The Chilis came on and played for the best part of two hours. The setlist was mainly focused around songs from "Stadium Arcadium" and "By The Way", but they did delve into their back catalogue and treated us to older and less expected songs like "Me and My Friends" and "Soul to Squeeze". They were ace. We know all about Flea's virtuosity with the bass guitar, but John Frusciante was a revelation. It is no coincidence that it was Frusciante's return to the band for "Californication" that sparked their renaissance and he's breathtaking live. I can't recall seeing such an accomplished guitarist play. Anthony Kiedis has a decent enough voice, but the songs really take off with the addition of Frusciante's backing vocals and harmonies (often accompanied by Flea).

What stood out? For me the standout track on the new album is "Snow ((hey oh))", and it didn't disapppoint live. Also excellent were "Don't Forget Me", set opener "Can't Stop", "Scar Tissue" and "Give It Away".

They were excellent. My one complaint though is that their set contained far too many instrumental interludes. Yes, it is great to see a band as good as this flexing their muscles, but when it means that they don't play songs like "The Zephyr Song" or "Under the Bridge" or "Dosed" (my favourite), then I can't help but feel a tiny bit cheated of a better show. They also don't really go in for chatting with the crowd much. I can understand that these stadium gigs must seem the same after a while, but I'm only seeing them once on this tour and a little bit of interaction with the crowd wouldn't go amiss (they did try a bit of a joke about England losing to Portugal - a result which has probably gone a long way towards helping them sell out Wednesday night's gig at Pride Park in Derby... a concert that was being advertised on the telly last week in a desperate attempt to shift tickets). Still, I shouldn't grumble really. At Reading in 1994 the whole band clearly hated being in England at all, and took every opportunity to moan about it. Perhaps silence is preferrable.

They're a great band. The three-and-a-half hours it then took us to make the 1-hour journey home on a Sunday night felt almost felt painless in the warm afterglow of the gig.

Almost (we finally got home about 2am).

I've had to drink a lot of coffee and some Red Bull to get through the day in one piece.... Well worth it.


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