Concert Review: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, Muse (Pepsi Arena, Albany, New York, April 3, 2000)

There’s not a lot of mystery about a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert: if you’re there, you know what the stalwart West Coast funk-rap-rock quartet do, and you know that they’re gonna do it very well. So scrap that review angle right up front, since the Red Hot Chili Peppers did their stalwart West Coast funk-rap-rock thing, and they did it very well. As expected.

It might be more interesting to look at what they didn’t bring to the Pepsi Arena Monday night. They left out at least a dozen near-hits or fan faves, for starters, including “Behind the Sun,” “Knock Me Down,” “Backwoods,” “True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes,” “Fire,” “Higher Ground,” “Special Secret Song Inside,” “Johnny Kick a Hole in the Sky” and “Aeroplane.” The band’s front-line didn’t bring shirts to the show, either, although the crowd in the general admission pit was more than happy to help them out, flinging their own duds stage-ward throughout the group’s set. And the Chili Peppers also didn’t bring former guitarists Dave Navarro (who was canned for musical unsuitability after a single album) or Hillel Slovak (who is dead).

They did bring Slovak’s successor and Navarro’s predecessor with them however, with prodigal guitarist John Frusciante returning to the rightful fold, saints be praised, hallelujah, after having nearly lost the same heroin battle that took Slovak and once dogged singer Anthony Kiedis before him. And Frusciante performed like a man reborn, spraying stunning solos, riffing on raucous rhythms and singing sweet harmonies throughout the evening, with his lines on “Give It Away,” “Right on Time” and “I Like Dirt” positively and definitively defining the ideal role of the lead guitarist in the modern rock ensemble.

Frusciante and bass-playing line mate Flea also eschewed the standard cock rock poses and wing walks that many modern players cop in an effort to connect with and please the audience. The two virtuoso players seemed to recognize that solid musical performances can do those things better than any amount of audience baiting can, so they spent most of the show literally standing nose to nose in front of Chad Smith’s drum riser, alternatively watching each other play and playing of each other — while Smith and Kiedis kept the beat with monster tom and bass drum work and high-speed rap-flavored rants respectively.

But one of the evening’s most poignant, moving moments came during the group’s laconic, radio-staple hit “Under the Bridge.” Watching Kiedis and Fruscante handle the call and response vocals at the song’s climax, with the guitarist singing “Under the bridge . . .” and the singer responding ” . . . I gave my life away,” knowing the heroin history the two men share and (hopefully) have overcome was truly chilling, in the best possible sense of the word. As if to emphasize the point about how close those two came to not being able to sing that song together, “Me and My Friends” followed “Under the Bridge” with its Slovak name drop in a verse that (at one point) introduced the late guitarist’s solo. Monday night, Kiedis still upheld his sacred love for his lost comrade in arms in song, but deftly reworked the solo intro line to announce that soul brother Frusciante was going to deliver the goods and then some instead. Which he did. And it was very, very good indeed.

Foo Fighters, on the other hand, ehhhh, not quite so good. Onetime Nirvana beat-keeper Dave Grohl has got great songs and loads of charisma, but his band is just plain nondescript, musically and otherwise. During one of the group’s seemingly endless stream of rock radio hits, Grohl sang “There goes my hero/he’s ordinary,” and that pretty much sums up both the appeal and the limitations of the Foo’s very solid, very ordinary fare. Emergent Britpoppers Muse, on the other hand, offered a hackle-raisingly noisy opening set that lived up to the hype the music press across the pond has been lauding upon them over the past year. Cross Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, the Bogmen and King Crimson together for a general idea of the flavor — then get out of the way and watch it explode.

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