Even in their mid-fifties, it’s hard to accept the Red Hot Chili Peppers as a mature band. When you make your name as shirtless funk rock goofballs, the image is tough to shake.
“We’ve been coming here for 35 years,” bassist Flea reminded the crowd at the California band’s first London appearance since 2011. In some ways, not much has changed. They still sported the most bizarre selection of legwear outside London Fashion Week – even newish guitarist Josh Kinghoffer, 37, whose trousers could have doubled as a kite. Singer Anthony Kiedis still cantered around the stage making tight, boxer-like dance moves while the numerous intrumental solos played out.
Yet they are changing. While it may seem that their idea of high entertainment is drummer Chad Smith hurling his sticks into the crowd and Flea blurring his fingers over another snapping bassline, long-term commercial success means plenty of cash to blow on the greatest light show I’ve seen since Coldplay’s wristbands. A thousand light rods suspended from the ceiling floated up and down on cords in mesmerising patterns, like a shoal of tropical fish pulsing and flashing.
It was a suitably hypnotic display for new music that was more subtle, less muscular. They produced three extra musicians for the disco skip of Go Robot and it still sounded light on its feet. Klinghoffer provided an easy, summery groove on Sick Love. Kiedis stuck less rigidly to the old formula for songs such as By the Way, of a semi-rapped verse followed by an emotional chorus.
The setlist has been changing every night but London got both Under the Bridge and Give It Away, the contrasting 1991 songs that showed both sides of the band – earnest balladeers and sex funk monsters – and turned them into superstars. Today they’re more fluid, still instantly recognisable but growing up, ever so slightly.