Not many high school bands last 39 years. Even fewer make the transition from punk underground to venerated rock establishment, while continuing to jump around like teenagers with functional and highly lubricated knee joints just a few months shy of 60 years old.
But Red Hot Chili Peppers are still doing it, and they’re making it look easy. They are the Rolling Stones of Generation X. And they are very much here to stay.
Gather ‘round, children; way back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, there was a burgeoning new genre of popular music called “Alternative.” Red Hot Chili Peppers, which formed in 1983 in Los Angeles with Anthony Kiedis on vocals, Flea (Michael Bazary) on bass, Hillel Slovak on guitar, and Jack Irons on drums, was one of the first American bands to really dominate the genre, paving the way for the Seattle Grunge explosion in 1991. (When Slovak died of a drug overdose in 1988, John Frusciante joined the band, and, shortly after, Irons left and was replaced by Will Ferrell doppelganger Chad Smith.) Frusciante’s subsequent departure(s) and return(s) over the years have been well documented.
Fast-forward to July 2022, when the Chilis (including Frusciante) are back on the road to celebrate their recent album, Unlimited Love. The band’s North American stadium tour (get tickets here) officially kicked off at the Empower Field At Mile High in Denver on Saturday night (July 23rd), and the evening also brought yet another album announcement; the Chilis’ 13th studio album, Return of the Dream Canteen, is slated for October 14th, as the excited crowd learned last night.
After opening sets by funk/electronica artist Thundercat and rock trio HAIM, a threatening blanket of clouds overhead burst into rain, drenching the 70,000-capacity open-air arena. The crowd was mostly comprised of Generation X fans in vintage RHCP merch, many with teenage children in tow. Elder Millennials were also in attendance, with their slightly fresher merch. It was a silent battle between Gen X, who were there to hear the hits from albums such as 1989’s Mother’s Milk and 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and Millennials, who were likely showing up for 2002’s By the Way and the smash 2006 release Stadium Arcadium.
As the rain continued, the Chilis took the stage with an opening jam that transitioned into the 2002 hit “Can’t Stop” from By the Way. Kiedis, looking 15 years younger than his actual age of 59 was of course shirtless. (At this point, it would be strange to see him actually wearing a shirt.) Flea, also 59, the other original co-founder of the band, was looking very on-brand as well: Fluorescent leopard-print hair, a mesh tank top, wraparound midi skirt, and knee-high socks. Standing at 5’5, Flea still hops around like the weird little bass-slapping elf he is (did I mention he was always my favorite Chili Pepper?).
Then there was uber-talented guitarist Frusciante, now 52, who reunited with the Chili Peppers in 2019 after a ten-year hiatus; this is his first tour with them since Stadium Arcadium. Looking very “dad rock,” Frusciante sported a goofy ‘70s striped polo and chinos. Finally, Chad Smith, who has somehow always looked 45, and still does so despite being 60, sat high on his throne — a raised drum set — wearing his signature backwards baseball cap and button-down with the sleeves cut off.
To many, the Chili Peppers have always been synonymous with sexy time. Flea’s bass has always felt primal, like a playful slap on the ass during passionate lovemaking; hot and dirty funk; Grandmaster Flash-meets-Prince with a side of teenage hooliganism. And this show did not disappoint. This band still sounded both horny and original, especially when they finally played a track from Mother’s Milk, “Nobody Weird Like Me.” (It’s the oldest song in their setlist, and you won’t hear anything from their first three albums, The Red Hot Chili Peppers (1984), Freaky Styley (1985), and 1987’s The Uplift Mofo Party Plan.)
Instead, most of the night is dedicated to hits from 1999’s Californication, By the Way and Stadium Arcadium, with several newer tracks from Unlimited Love — “Aquatic Mouth Dance,” “Whatchu Thinking,” “The Heavy Wing,” and “Black Summer” — also in the mix.