England is gripped by a heady patriotic fervor these days – between the England team’s highly anticipated appearances in the 2002 World Cup and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, you can barely move without seeing a flag or banner.
Yet the Brits still seem to have a little fervor left over for their American cousins, especially when those Americans happen to be the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
When the Chilis took the stage for a “secret” club gig at the Garage in London on Friday (May 31), the primarily invite-only crowd erupted with an enthusiasm normally reserved for a winning goal or a waving monarch. Arms-in-the-air cheering greeted every song the crowd recognized, and appreciative applause followed new songs from the band’s forthcoming album, By the Way. At the end of the night, the walls were sweating as much as the audience.
In such an intimate, supportive, and charged atmosphere, you might have expected some reciprocal enthusiasm from the band, but sadly, there wasn’t much to be had. Call it the “Ferrari on a crowded city street” syndrome, but on this night, the Chilis never completely shifted into a comfortable gear.
Sure, there were flashes of the Chili musical magik, especially on the older hits such as “Scar Tissue” and “The Power of Equality.” But, the band just never seemed able to – or inclined to – scale their arena act down for such a small venue. It was either full throttle standbys or slow, churning new tracks.
Aside from a brief comment when he first took the stage (“We decided to get out of the van and go play a club”), lead singer Anthony Kiedis barely addressed the 400 members of the audience and interacted only intermittently with bassist Flea (sporting spiky blue hair), drummer Chad Smith, or guitarist John Frusciante.
Still, from a musical standpoint, the band interacted superbly – the quartet’s trademark punk-funk sound was as potent and enjoyable as ever. “Give It Away” sent the crowd mad and stirred a brief bout of crowd surfing, while “Otherside” prompted the favorite English gig pastime of singing along loudly to every word.
“By the Way,” the title track from the new album, opened the set, and it dovetailed perfectly with the best of the Chili’s high-octane hits. Flea and Smith are still one of the tightest rhythm sections in rock, and this song puts that talent high in the mix. Unfortunately, not all the new material was as engaging, with two or three taking a rather slow detour. These tracks might be perfect arena fodder, but on this small stage, they just didn’t catch fire.
The band ended the night with a fabulous rendition of “Under the Bridge,” with Kiedis delivering a note-perfect performance. However, it wasn’t enough to stop the booing when the crowd realized the Chilis weren’t coming back – 14 songs in just under an hour was all we were going to get.
The Chilis might have been trying to let the music, especially the new tracks, do the talking, but for this crowd, the conversation was too brief and one-sided. Hopefully, when the band returns to London later in the summer as part of their festival circuit, the Ferrari will be back on track.