Red Hot Chili Peppers Take Atlanta on a Trip
Seeing The Red Hot Chili Peppers has been a lifelong dream of mine. They’re one of my earliest musical influences. I can remember listening to cheap Memorex burned CDs of Californication and By The Way back in high school. Even as they’ve aged, they’ve somehow managed to hold onto much of the cheeky schoolboy antics that made them famous, and never seemed to drift too far away from the pure fun of making music as a group of friends.
With the years of addiction behind them, they haven’t gone soft and can still rock out to arena crowds and festivals just as they ever did. Their fans apparently haven’t managed to kick their habits quite as easily, as drunken behavior became a theme of the evening. I even saw one woman slumped over against her husband as I first made my way to my seat. As I sipped on my Coca-Cola, she got up, found her way to a trash can, and hurled for a few minutes before her date escorted her out before the first opener even came onstage. I’m fairly confident they’re divorced now.
Jack Irons opened up the night with a 20-minute long drum performance over ambient background tones. As a founding member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and a long-time industry icon, he needed little introduction, but he got a generous one anyway from Flea who came out and set him up for success with the audience. Irons played impressively and cleanly while psychedelic visuals of vintage films layered with acid tape effects played on the screen behind him. White rabbits and circus performances featured heavily in the reel while bursts of green and purple washed over them in liquid waves.
The stage crews took their time getting things organized between performances, so everyone had plenty of time to go to the bars for drinks and make it back to their seats in time. I’m not sure what Philips Arena’s policy on over-serving is, but it clearly isn’t rigidly defined, as I saw several people who were barely capable of standing up straight by the end of the night. The rows in front of me quickly filled in with groups who looked like business professionals tying one on for the night. One gentleman had to be guided back to his seat about a dozen times by security after he repeatedly kept trying to move up to the front of the section. A girl in a Braves shirt simply could not be convinced that she was dancing too wildly until she had to stop to puke and her boyfriend led her away in shame. I later found out that I was in the VIP section, so maybe this is just how VIPs behave.
The direct support for the Peppers was an amazing Japanese band called BabyMetal. They were a trash metal band with anime-style poppy vocals overtop. The band members all looked like Samara from The Ring, in long white robes and face paint. The singers were three tiny young women in black leather and lace outfits. They were the perfect definition of Kawaii, and layered against the speed and noise of the music, it was like a deep peek inside Japanese pop culture, a place of wonderful costume, cuteness, and sometimes emotional darkness. Several people in the crowd looked confused, but everyone looked entertained. They were weird and unexpected, but their performance was very fun to watch and got everyone paying attention, which was definitely necessary for the performance that The Red Hot Chili Peppers were about to deliver.
Flea’s hair was dyed blonde with leopard spots in black, making him look like some kind of aging jungle Slim Shady, and he had the moves to match the look. I’ve never seen a quinquagenarian run, jump, kneel, or leap across a stage with so much energy and vigor. It was especially impressive given that, as he told the audience, had “been at the Clermont Lounge since 7 A.M.”
The energy that he put into his bass as he and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer spun around on either side of Anthony Kiedis was so impressive. Chad Smith looked so comfortable on the drums, even as he laid down some of the cleanest beats I’ve heard live in a while. I don’t think I can describe Kiedis better than was mirrored in the enormous fold-out sign that a high school girl had brought to the show. “Anthony Kiedis is Daddy” it read in big red letters, surrounded by hearts.
Their performance was clean and they took a few moments between songs to play little funk jams that would eventually evolve into the intro of the next song. It was really fun to see the band riffing like that and it also highlighted how funky they really are. They’re known as a rock band, but the funk is so deep in their music that it couldn’t hide on stage. It was great to see it come out as improvised little moments like those.
The screens behind them played some of the most psychedelic visuals I’ve ever seen. Over the audience were hundreds of little plastic cylinders, each one a diffuser for a rod of RGB LEDs. These were hung from wires that came from the very top of the arena down to about five feet over the audience’s head, each one independently controllable in elevation and color. The patterns, shapes, and colors were all open to play as they essentially functioned as pixels in a grid, but with a z-axis in play. It was a very impressive piece of programming and hardware design, and it hugely added to the already spectacular performance by creating waves and rings of bright color over the heads of the crowd.
By the end of the show, the girl in the Braves shirt had come back with her squad, and four security guards had to be called out to keep them off the rail. One young man had to quickly leave after he was discovered smoking a blunt, and the businessmen were collapsed in their seats. A young boy stared at the stage while his father live-streamed on Facebook. One of the men in the row behind me moved into the seat next to me. He didn’t say a word until 15 minutes later when he offered me a grinning fist bump. I did the fist bump thing and he went back to waving his arms around in the air. The Red Hot Chili Peppers gave us all a trip down memory lane as well as a refreshingly modern and clever experience design. As they left the stage, Flea told the audience to “share love everyday, every minute of every day.” He said “the world’s a crazy place. It’s all we’ve got.”
Photos by Sidney Spear for Bullet Music