Story by Tony Bonyata
Photos by Phil Bonyata
Maybe it was the hair. Or lack of it, that grounded the Red Hot Chili Peppers' sold-out show last Saturday evening at Madison's Dane County Coliseum.
Long known for the explosive, fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants live shows (some which have seen them wearing nothing more onstage than one strategically placed white tube sock or giant light bulbs on their heads when they performed at Woodstock II in 1994), their performance in Madison was lackluster and rather disappointing for such a strong group of talented musicians. The reason was hard to identify at first - Chad Smith's drums still thundered, Flea's bass was as frenetic, funky and intricate as ever, and guitarist John Frusciante's leaps from funk to punk to heavy metal along with his sweeping sonic tones and melodic textures were magnificent (Frusciante rejoined the band last year after a four year hiatus). So that left only one suspect - singer Anthony Kiedis. In the past, Kiedis would often take the Peppers' performances over the edge with his urgent troglodytic rap rantings as he flung his chiseled body and spun his waist-length locks into a tribal whirlpool. But now, garbed in a baggy jump suit with a short, dyed blonde haircut, Kiedis looked like Iggy Pop (circa 1976) at a Richard Simmons "Sweating to the Oldies" workout.
As the band opened with the funky "Around The World" from their latest album Californication it seemed like the makings for an intense show, but as the band worked their way through favorites such as "Give It Away", "Suck My Kiss", "Funky Monks" and "Lovely Man", all from their pivotal album Blood Sugar Sex Magic, it became apparent that Kiedis didn't really have his heart and soul in his performance. Looking like he didn't quite know what to do with himself without his long mane to flail around, Kiedis hung on his mic stand blurting out impotent rap phrasings as if he was just going through the motions.
Unfortunately, the singer's actions rubbed off on fellow Peppers, leaving the chemistry of the band shy one key ingredient. On the wonderful "Otherside" and "Easily", both from Californication, as well as the tender "I Could Have Lied", the band was a plug short of firing on all fours, offering no depth and very little soul to these numbers .
It took all night, but they did manage to ignite during their encore when they ran through a slinky version on the funked-up sleaze of "Sir Psycho Sexy" and a bombastic take of Iggy and The Stooges punk classic "Search and Destroy". Unfortunately, by that time, however, it was too late to save the evening.
Although their performance might have indicated that they might be sliding artistically, let's hope that this was, instead, just a bad hair day for the Chili Peppers.
Backing up the Red Hot Chili Peppers were the Foo Fighters, led by singer / songwriter / guitarist and one-time drummer for Nirvana, Dave Grohl. Opening with the jerky punk of "Monkey Man", Grohl, with sideburns, red shirt and tie, put on a pleasing show filled with other high-energy numbers such as their latest hit "Learn To Fly", the angst-filled "Break Out" and "Stacked Actors", all from their latest album There Is Nothing Left To Lose.
What the main act lacked in intensity, Grohl more than made up for it as he ripped into songs on his guitar with the same grungy aggressiveness he used to exude behind the skins for Kurt Cobain.
Like Anthony Kiedis, Grohl also had his once-trademark waist-long head of hair trimmed to a short, respectable length. But the Foo's performance had nothing to do with the length of their hair (or jumpsuits, tube socks or light bulbs, for that matter.) It was about the songs. Well-written pop numbers with a dirty edge and performed with a take-no-prisoners attitude that left the audience wanting more.
Now if Anthony could only get an appointment with Dave's barber...
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