Raucous Californians give their punk-funk stew a London airing, with a little help from the Godfather
Red Hot Chili Peppers/James Brown
Hyde Park, London Sunday 20 June, 2004
Just how seriously can you take the Red Hot Chili Peppers? Or am I missing the point? It’s always been possible to applaud the clownish gymnastic bacchanalianism of Flea, Kiedis and chums without ranking them very high in the list of All-Time Greats. And yet somehow there they are, improbable survivors and glorious upholders of the band/gang ethic, keepers of some archaic faith in the power of spectacle and rhythmic cohesion.
What’s most singular about the Chili Peppers is that their Hollywood Babylon laddishness is anchored in something that’s had little discernible influence on the rock or dance subcultures of the past 15 years?funk.
It’s a shame, therefore, that James Brown, architect of funk’s on-the-one groove, is a spent vaudevillian force, and therefore a rather tepid support act. Fresh from more domestic turmoil back home in Jow-jah, the Godfather preaches in the Park to yet another congregation of white people, serving up everything from the itchy disco groove of “Get Up Offa That Thing”to the wack and unwanted “Living In America”. It’s a hollow ritual at best.
By contrast, the Chili Peppers are, well, red hot. Flanked by massive but crisp-clear images of themselves?black-and-white before sunset, colour thereafter?they give us two hours of super-Cali-fragilistic punk-funk that’s like some kind of inspired copulation between Bootsy Collins and The Circle Jerks.
What’s so great about the band is the leanness of their hyper-syncopated grooves. With the brute lumberjack presence of drummer Chad Smith behind them, back-from-the-dead guitarist John Frusciante and bassman Flea?the Pan of the four-stringed universe?intertwine sublimely within wide open spaces. They require no sonic camouflage to hide behind. Anthony Kiedis?recovering fuck-up, muscled Hollywood brat, crap singer?is surely one of the great rock frontmen. But he’s also more serious, more passionately involved in the Peppers’vignettes of damage and salvation than I’d anticipated.
There’s predictably little material from before the group started working with the great Rick Rubin, who wanders past me halfway through the set. The vast Hyde Park crowd sates itself on “Around The World”, “Scar Tissue”, “Parallel Universe”, “Get On Top”and most of the rest of 1999’s Californication and 2002’s By The Way. There’s also a hysterical cover of Looking Glass'”Brandy”, and Frusciante drops into falsetto-sung interludes like The Chantels'”Maybe”and Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”. Red Hot Chili Peppers are out on their own, cut loose from ageing peers like U2 and R.E.M.. Built on their ribald funk bases, they may be The Last Great Rock Band to flourish in the world of pop floss and digitised bling. Their scar tissue well hidden, they’re also a band for all the family?Hyde Park was full of them. “London in the summertime/Cuss me out and it’ll feel alright…”