In Festival Guide Reviews

Consider, for a moment, that the Chili Peppers have been together since 1983. (PHOTO: Summerfest)

Ageless Chili Peppers still simmer on Summerfest's soaked opener

I should disclose that, walking into Summerfest's first night, I went in with a love-not-hate-but-ambivalence relationship with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. While they were easily one of my favorite bands in the '90s, I already felt a little cynical heading into the last time I saw them at Summerfest on July 2, 2000.

I remember that night very well. Torrential rains and lightning, people huddled under the Hoan Bridge (Get it? Under the bridge!) before sprinting over to the then Marcus Amphitheater for the show.

In other words, exactly like tonight. Maybe tonight's weather was worse, actually.

In 2000, The Chili Peppers were pretty good, even though the general consensus was that they were jumping the shark – which was a very popular phrase then, you damned millennials – at that very moment. In fact, the best part of the night was watching the Foo Fighters open for RHCP – it felt like a passing of the torch. In retrospect, I know now this band never passed off any such torch, and this was one of the best Summerfest shows I've ever seen. No offense, Foo, you still have a long way to go.

(PHOTO: Andy Tarnoff)

(PHOTO: Andy Tarnoff)

Somehow, this never-aging band has managed to stay relevant 17 years later since the last time I saw them, even though the hits are fewer and farther between. Understand that I listened to 1989's "Mother's Milk" in my bedroom until, and at a volume at which, the picture frames went crooked (just ask my parents and my little sister what 15-year-old Andy was listening to while playing Tetris).

Even though the band has gone through guitar players like Spinal Tap and the Violent Femmes have gone through drummers, the Chili Peppers have been nominated for 16 Grammys and have steadily put out 11 studio albums … since 1983.

Let that sink in for a moment: 1983. Tonight, though, Flea and Anthony Keidis, in his Raiders shirt and his black spandex pants, flew around the stage like they did almost 35 years ago, even though he looked a lot like Uncle Rico from "Napoleon Dynamite."

Buffeted by longtime drummer and Will Ferrell doppelgänger Chad Smith, plus former touring guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, these men looked like the crazy, ripped, tattooed, surprisingly-not-shirtless formerly drunk uncles you always wish you had (or at least I wish I had). And they played most of what we expected they would. And it was pretty great, albeit borderline eerie.

Literally under the (Hoan) bridge.

A post shared by Andy Tarnoff (@andytarnoff) on

The night really did feel like a equally apocalyptic version of the Summerfest show 17 years ago; I have no idea if the Big Bang happened in the background (editor's note: it didn't). I just felt mist and smelled Milorginite. It started at 9:15 p.m. and went full-bore with little chatter until 10:45 p.m. The Amphitheater was filled, and us soggy people were all in for the full 90 minutes.

The funny thing to me is that a bunch of these songs came out well after I declared the RHCP was jumping that big, freaky, bass-slapping Los Angeles shark. I mean, for a band that struggled so much with booze and drugs, they have just kept going. So I was wrong. It didn't take long for my ambivalence to turn back into blood, sugar, sex and magic. To put it another way: The Chili Peppers sounded amazing on this crazy-ass night.

Tonight we heard "Scar Tissue," "Around The World" and a handful of "newer" songs.

Fortunately, they also played some of the amazing old songs in their expansive catalog, like "Under the Bridge," "Give It Away," "Suck My Kiss" and some of their older but not too old hits like "Californication," which they slowed down beautifully, and "Around the World" (1999). They kind of mangled "Breaking The Girl," unfortunately. They brought in another guitar player for "Go Robot." No idea who he is, but I liked his old-school Lakers hat.

Sadly, they didn't play "Dani California" or "Higher Ground," the first RHCP song I ever heard. Bummer. Tenth grade me wanted to hear "Magic Johnson," and that didn't happen, but Flea was rocking a purple Lakers bass.

Californication slowed down and made even more beautiful. #summerfest

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They ended on a high note that I won't soon forget, starting their encore with ... wait for it ... "Add It Up," unbelievably paying homage to Milwaukee's Violent Femmes. With Klinghoffer taking the vocals, I was astounded that they presumably learned a Femmes song just for this one show.

"Goodbye Angels" was proof that the Peppers can still somehow write new and good songs. I loved this line: "Bonafide ride step aside my Johnson; Yes I could in the woods of Wisconsin."

They closed with the legendary "Give It Away Now," which propelled RHCP into the spotlight for good.

(PHOTO: Andy Tarnoff)

So, look, say you what you want about this band. Smith is 55 (and his 90-year-old mom was side stage; see the photo at the bottom). Kiedis and Flea are 54, and even with Anthony's creepy mustache, they could still kick your ass. Oddly, no one took their shirts off, and thankfully, nobody got naked on stage, but the Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of the best rock bands of all time – they don't need any additional gimmicks. Should they have hung it up a few years ago? Before tonight, I would've said yes. Now I say no. With 80 million record sales, the Chili Peppers changed the face of alternative rock. They have earned the right to do whatever they want, and I love that they played a totally different set list than they did even last week.

Stormy weather or otherwise, I'm just happy I could see them again, and in such a perfectly weird setting. What a great way to kick off the Big Gig.


Jack Irons, the founding drummer for RHCP, opened for the Peppers. Introduced by Flea, he was a one-man percussion inferno. The second opener was Deerhoof (which includes Waukesha's Eddie Rodriguez) and they rocked pretty hard.

Setlist

Intro Jam
Around the World
Snow (Hey Oh)
Scar Tissue
Dark Necessities
Mommy, Where's Daddy?
Me And My Friends
Breaking the Girl
Go Robot
Californication
Tell Me Baby
Sick Love
Suck My Kiss
Under the Bridge
By The Way

Encore:

Add It Up
Goodbye Angels
Give It Away


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