It feels like the Red Hot Chili Peppers have been around forever. Their self-titled debut record was released in August 1984, yet they’ve stayed relevant to huge numbers in the generations that have followed.
They’ve repeatedly sold out global tours and released songs that have served as essential listening for any teenager looking to learn guitar.
One key component in their success has been guitarist John Frusciante, who rejoined the band in 2019 following an extended absence during which he was replaced by Josh Klinghoffer. The band “pushed each other in a positive way” on the back of Frusciante’s return, they told NME in a February 2022 interview.
Undoubtedly, Frusciante’s playing defined the sound of some of the band’s biggest hits as much as the other members in their roles did. They hunkered down together during the pandemic and wrote more than 100 songs to pick from for their latest album, Unlimited Love. Plenty of options all round for Wednesday night’s gig in Dublin’s Marlay Park, part of the European leg of their current world tour that started in Seville earlier this month.
Thundercat, the first support act, rumbled on stage under an overcast sky asking “what the f**k is up, Dublin?” into a golden microphone. Dedicating his set to his music teacher, he and his band launched into a set of fusion and funk led by his six-string bass playing. Nothing to really warm up the crowd like a song inspired by Party Boy from Jackass.
Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals were up next, played in by a trumpet solo before stomping into Heart Don’t Stand a Chance.
Paak is a natural entertainer, behind the drums or at the front of the stage at the mic, but he’s keen to let the talent of his band members shine through in their own spotlight moments of solos and leading on vocals.
A few raindrops fell on the crowd as Frusciante walked out, his steps echoed by slams off drummer Chad Smith’s gong. Flea came next for a heavy instrumental jam that could have easily worked as a finale if they’d wanted. Frontman Anthony Kiedis skipped out for the opener, Can’t Stop.
Flea took a moment to admire a rainbow that formed over the nearby hills, not that half the crowd noticed it — they were already too focused on the music.
Some big shows can suffer from an excess of lights or set dressing. Not so for the Chilis. The lights and graphics synced with the songs as if they had been drawn when the lyrics were first written. The set took a trip through their back catalogue, cracking out hits from across their career.
Otherside was one of the best performances of the night, with Frusciante’s solo during Suck My Kiss a close second.
“This is band is, like, 155 per cent Irish,” Kiedis told the crowd, a jab at the Irish lineage of the members.
“I love the quarter of Flea that’s Irish — the rest can f**k off.”
The few short, quiet moments between songs were filled with chants of “olé, olé, olé”, the last one being drowned out as Flea and Frusciante stayed on stage on their own, trading riffs as the latter layered in hints of the soon-to-be-played, slightly slower tempo version of Californication. Despite the crowd size, their playing style felt like one big jam session between friends.
Californication, and most tracks on the night, did not sound exactly like their album versions. Most sounded slightly different, showing the band’s comfort with one another’s abilities. A little bit of improv or shaking things up can go a long way to keeping an audience hooked.
Their laid-back attitude came across as a sense of fun and excitement in them. Whether it was Smith’s fills, Flea’s slaps (and handstand), Frusciante’s riffs or Kiedis’s vocals, everyone got their chance to shine.
Kiedis, Flea and Frusciante huddled together as the show’s closing number, By The Way, came to an end. Some of Kiedis’s parting words to the crowd were: “This is a magical country and a magical place.”
Smith was the last one offstage, repeatedly and sincerely thanking the crowd. They’ve been around a long time and, as a band evidently still at the top of their game, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are not going anywhere for a long time yet.