Red Hot Chili Peppers At Croke Park

The Vaccines have stepped up from playing The Academy only a year ago, and tonight they seem just a touch overmatched. It can’t be easy opening a venue the size of Croke Park in broad daylight, a situation made tougher by the stadium being perhaps a fifth full, and The Vaccines first album only being long enough to fill two-thirds of their set time. The Vaccines makes a fair effort, with ‘Wreckin’ Bar’, ‘Norgaard’ and ‘If You Wanna’ marking the highs. Fans might be surprised to hear that a handful of the newer tracks – not as poppy and infectious as the début at first listen – clock in at close to the five-minute mark and feature some fairly hefty riffs. All in, though, The Vaccines fall down where so many do in stadiums: they’re simply not active or compelling enough to fill such a sizeable stage space. Still, they’re musically enticing, hooky and more smoothly produced than before, so things are looking promising.

The breaks between bands tonight are notable – around the forty minute mark on both occasions – and by the time Noel Gallagher and his High Flying Birds stroll on stage, the crowd has significantly filled out. Noel’s new band have got off to a career flyer, having already headlined the O2 in Dublin, and we’ve already overheard a few punters mention that they’re in the stadium for Noel and not the headliners. Noel’s post-Oasis dive into blues rock has its moments: it’s no surprise to anyone that his song writing ability makes little his brother’s new outfit look slightly laughable, but it’s still the Oasis tracks that get the crowd going.

Noel opens with ‘(It’s Good) To Be Free’, and drops the singles in quick succession, ‘The Death of You And Me’, ‘AKA… What A Life!’, ‘Dream On’ and ‘If I Had A Gun’ all getting a airings. The reaction is muted, however: Gallagher sounds every bit as good as you’d expect, but offers very little visually (a gap Liam would fill with attitude and bad fashion), and does lack a bit of variety in his blues-rock style. They might seem like cheap throwbacks, but we wonder if ‘Little By Little’, ‘Half The World Away’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ weren’t pulled out simply because things were going down relatively indifferently. The latter, predictably, sees one of the biggest sing-alongs of the night, and sends a technically impressive but largely uninspiring High Flying Birds off stage with smiles on their faces. A bit of a let-down overall, though.

Red Hot Chili Peppers are anything but. Last time I saw the Californians was nearly a decade ago, when they stumbled through a disastrous V Festival set which suffered from inconsistent sound and a mid-set mass exodus. Tonight is a totally different story: even slightly drab recent single and set opener ‘Monarchy Of Roses’ has the leaping underway and the extended guitar and bass twiddles flowing. Kiedis leaps through it all in a way that’s in danger of inducing whiplash, while the previously sedate pitch-side stands are all on their feet by the time ‘Around The World’ and ‘Otherside’ kick in.

Tonight’s set is mercifully heavy on older material. Relative newcomers ‘Factory Of Faith’, ‘Hard To Concentrate’ and ‘The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie’ fit well, with the former in particular seeing a psychedelic, swirling backdrop and looping guitar trickery step-forward in full force. With the classics, though, come mass euphoric sing-alongs. ‘Universally Speaking’ and ‘Under The Bridge’ in particular see lighters swaying, while ‘Can’t Stop’ is accompanied by circling bodies down the front, raised arms and a general sense of euphoria. What’s more impressive than the inevitable spattering of hits, though, is that the Chili’s play them with marked passion, as if it’s their first time in a stadium, and we’re a home-town crowd.

Anthony Kiedis is monstrously energetic, making the sizable Croke Park stage look like a hop around his living room. Flea, if anything, is still better, stealing the show, in playing off against John Frusciante’s replacement John Klinghoffer. Klinghoffer kneels and gurns his way through a series of funky extended intros while Flea belies his 50th birthday being just around the corner: that he pulls off such an extensive selection of enthralling bass solos is not surprise, that he does so with buckets of energy from every last corner of the stage shows there’s not an ounce of let up in this well-oiled machine, despite RHCP’s thirtieth anniversary being due next year. Kiedis, despite being five years his elder, makes Noel Gallagher’s restrained outpourings look positively grandfatherly by comparison.

The encore sums things up: the Chilis power through a fun packed duo of ‘Suck My Kiss’ and ‘Give It Away’, but not before an extended Chad Smith bongo solo followed by a full on drum solo, accompanied by Flea strutting across the length of the substantial stage on his hands. Then there’s the unfulfilled tease of a full, punked-up intro to U2’s ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’; ‘Higher Ground’, earlier in the set, also featured an extended intro that sounded suspiciously like ‘Desire’. Come the close, after ‘Suck My Kiss’ has seen the gold circle crowd surf its way to a conclusion, Flea steps to the front, delivers a tense monologue on supporting live music and power lying with the people, and then, just about 100 minutes in, the frenetic bouncing subsides and we’re left with just a ringing in the ears.

It’s not the perfect hits set – ‘Scar Tissue’ and ‘Zephyr Song’ in particular are conspicuous by their absence, but having suspected that The Chili’s diminishing returns on-record might have a knock on affect live, we were proven spectacularly wrong. Simple, yet rammed full of musicianship and boisterously energetic entertainment, Chili’s live set up is in rude, rude health.

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