It seems the Red Hot Chili Peppers are touring for kicks
With their last album, The Getaway, released in 2016, and its supporting world tour concluding last year, the Los Angeles rock stalwarts have been spending 2019 on a run of shows that appears to defy geographical planning.
The year began with a jaunt across Australia for the first time in a decade, and then there was the show at the mouth of the Giza Pyramids in Egypt in March. Then it was back to the US for a secret private show streamed live online, as well as a mini set in a Los Angeles high school in July.
This brings us to the Chili’s debut appearance in Abu Dhabi’s newest indoor venue, The Arena on Yas Island, on September 4.
The band came, saw and funked hard, but the set list was as random as their travels. Sure, the musicianship was high, drummer Chad Smith was simply scintillating and singer Anthony Keidis’s voice was as smooth and spirited as the jujitsu air kicks he delivered throughout the evening, but the gig was low on the classics.
Like the album format, which the Chili's have been increasingly perfecting ever since 1999's Californication, a concert also needs to tell a story.
When Guns'n'Roses (a band sharing the same longevity as RHCP) performed with their classic line up at the Du Arena last year, the message was clear: forgive and live for the moment. Despite the fact that singer Axl Rose’s voice failed him at times throughout the set due to his developing illness, it was moving to see him giving it his all despite his situation.
With RHCP, it was hard to find that emotional connection.
Through their passionate renderings of The Zephyr Song and Dark Necessities, I caught some glimmers of an exciting band who transcended an initially juvenile funk aesthetic to become more soulful and even spiritual. Frustratingly, however, these insights were dampened by plenty of pre- and post-song instrumental noodling and some strange song choices.
It was the latter that kept the show from truly taking off. Whenever the band worked the crowd to a fevered state, particularly on the killer double whammy of the mellow groover Snow and the mountainous chorus of the rocker Dani California (featuring a beautifully delicate solo by guitarist Josh Klinghoffer), the band would then head in a more esoteric direction.
This included playing the morose Hey, a deep cut from the 2006 double album Stadium Arcadium, followed by a respectable but rather unnecessary version of The Stooges's I Wanna Be Your Dog – it was the first of two covers that also included Funkadelic's What is Soul.
While I am all for the Peppers paying respect to their musical elders, such choices are tough to swallow when they are done in favour of of their own classic tracks, such as Scar Tissue, Other Side, Under The Bridge or even Fortune Faded – all of which didn't make the cut in Abu Dhabi.
Fortunately, the band generated much needed energy to conclude the main set well. Suck My Kiss hit hard with Flea – who looked like a walking rainbow – slapping king size riffs from his bass that hit me square in the chest. Soul to Squeeze was tender in all the right places, while the robo-funk meets soul styling of By The Way was fun and taut.
However, when it came to the encore, The Chili’s once again went to the other side, so to speak.
It began with a Klinghoffer guitar solo of Prince's Purple Rain, followed by Goodbye Angels, a decent yet ultimately forgotten number from the band's catalogue.
By the time the concert closer Give it Away arrived, the ecstatic dancing by the crowd seemed to be down to both the band's tight musicianship, the classic song, as well as the release of pent up frustration over a gig that was brilliant in moments, but could have been better.