Red Hot Chili Peppers are certainly one of alt-rock’s most cherished remaining relics; their free-rolling buoyancy has become earnest in its execution and managed to stay startlingly malleable for more than three decades. Their latest album, last year’s The Getaway, is the very first where producer Rick Rubin was traded in for Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, and doesn’t aim to be a distending musical resurrection by any means; it’s simply four artists doubling down on their classic retro conceit.
Their breakthrough 1991 record Blood Sugar Sex Magik was the definitive SoCal stoner soundtrack, and each project that followed has only burnished with age, forcing their oversized reverie to eventually sell out arenas. But as they commanded thousands of anxious concert goers Tuesday night (February 7) at TD Garden in Boston, the first of two sold out shows, we couldn’t help but wonder: Through all of the guitarist changes and low points, would the Red Hot Chili Peppers continue to navigate their self-aware grunge paranoia with ease onstage or drown at the mere notion of facing it?
As expected, the answer would be the former. Despite wearing a medical walking boot on his left leg due to a torn tendon in his ankle, there was no way that frontman Anthony Kiedis was going to let his injury hinder the band’s skittering vibrance. He needed a leg scooter as he approached the stage, but once he got there it was placed aside and all bets were off. The Peppers’ introductory jam session was a perfect way to kick off an evening full of layered bombast and playful diversion.
Songs like “Dani California,” “Can’t Stop,” and “Suck My Kiss” were thrilling firestarters and felt fresh and spontaneous in their performative rebirth; “The Zephryr Song” and “Californication” showcased captivating vocals that dangled between hope and hurt. Newer tunes from The Getaway were obviously greeted with skepticism; “Dark Necessities,” “Go Robot,” and “Sick Love” still had the dreamy late night rapture and pulsating grooves that RHCP are known for but just need a little more time to stick.
“By The Way” was the last song before their encore, and it was placed there for good reason; the entire band used the song’s detailed guitar churn and latticed beats to get lost in their own psychedelic rapture for nearly 10 minutes. As the band reconvened after a brief break, guitarist Josh Kinghoffer generously treated the Boston crowd to his solo version Gary Portnay’s Cheers theme song, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name.” Flea, the untameable bassist madman whose frenetic sprightliness is legendary, did a handstand across the stage to display just how the rest of the night was going to go. Drummer Chad Smith’s focus had its own laser-like precision. And Kiedis was hellbent on ending the show on an even higher note than when they started.
Closing out the 18-song performance, “Goodbye Angels” was eclipsed by “Give It Away,” which symbolized a few different concepts regarding the Peppers’ discography: New vs. old, the unchartered vs. the familiar, mainstream sheen vs. unpolished abstraction. And just as the Garden was feeling reenergized and practically immortal from such a spectacular evening, the music stopped, the band bid farewell, the house lights reemerged, and our trip — one that was sensual and explosive and euphoric and cinematic — was over.