Saturday, January 14, 2017

Red Hot Chilli Peppers play Cape Town 2012


The name made them sound like a joke band. They looked like a joke band because they never wore shirts on stage and preferred long shorts all the time. On occasion, they performed naked with socks covering cocks. All of this smacked of japery and shallowness. This would not be a band to survive much beyond the initial five year burst.

Thirty-plus years later they are still a force in rock and have survived for so long that they have even gotten around to touring in South Africa in 2012.

RHCP were early proponents of the muscular funk rock that was prevalent in the mid to late Eighties. On the one hand, there was the black pop funk of Prince and The Time, and others of that Minneapolis ilk, and then there were the White rock bands who seemed to like funk and hard rock in equal measures and had the plan to amalgamate the 2 genres. The result was a loud noise with the emphasis on rhythm and beat over melody and subtlety, with very little of the swinging funk of the Black street funk bands of the Seventies and with all the bombast of some of the worst aspects of hard rock. Usually the band worked hard to establish a solid groove while the vocalist shouted over the top or attempted lame rap.

This pretty much describes what RHCP were up to in in the first couple of years of their career.

Radio 5 gave them a fair amount of airplay, and the controversial albums Mother's Milk and Uplift Mofo Party Plan were the favourites, but it still did not seem to me that RHCP would outlast the Eighties and the demise of the funk rock boom. in the late Nineties Nu-Metal was the catchphrase for similar bands who embraced rap with their rock but not necessarily funk, preferring to bring in elements of hip hop, the dominant Black genre over the previous decade. Nu-Metal did not survive the Nineties in any serious manner. some of the big bands are still around in diminished shape and form but the lesser lights have all disappeared. the same goes for the peer group RHCP grew up with.  Where are 24-7 Spyz or Stonefunkers today?

Anthony Kiedis wrote "Under the Bridge", John Frusciante supplied the mellifluous, beautiful guitar part and the rest was history. This song belongs on your typical all-time greatest rock anthems album, along with "Radar Love", "Smoke on the Water" or "Hotel California." 

It was in the time of Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991 and 1992) that I got into RHCP, partly because I liked "Under the Bridge" and partly because "Suck my Kiss" was a big club hit at the places I frequented at the time, along with "Give It Away" and even "Higher Ground", an older song. The rhythm and chant of these tunes made sense in the loud, frenetic club atmosphere and you could jump up and down and air punch to them.

An acquaintance had the album and I listened to it a couple of times and decided that there was too much of the kind of thing I did not like to induce me to shell out cash on the product.

Over the years I kept up with most of the developments in RHCP land, such as John Frusciante's departure and replacement by Dave Navarro and his return for the next peak of commercial success with "Californication", another song I liked at the time and still like.  Because I pretty much ceased listening to radio in the early years of the new millennium I lost track of whatever radio hits RHCP might have had and knew very little album tracks at all. in fact, given that it was a major band at the time, I ignored their output as not being my kind of thing, much as I did with REM or U2 after Achtung Baby.

My “goddaughter,” Emma, is a huge RHCP fan, probably from Califonication onwards because it was often played in her parental household. 

When Emma heard that Flea was making noises on Twitter, in early 2012, about RHCP coming to South Africa, she was immediately enthusiastic and when the concerts were announced she wanted to go. I bought 2 tickets, spending about one hour and forty minutes in an online queue. Golden Circle and general admission tickets were sold out almost immediately and I bought 2 seated tickets though I would have liked Golden Circle too, given that even decent seats are too far away from the stage to allow me to see properly what is going on and because rock shows are probably better experienced from a standing point of view in amongst the crowd. The seated tickets were priced at R415 and that is perhaps not a bad price for a big stadium show by a major rock band.

Emma has Californication and Stadium Arcadium,; I have MP3 tracks of the first Greatest Hits album. I finally bought Blood Sugar Sex Magik (20 years after te fact) when I found it at Cash Crusaders. I also have a collection of videos called What Hits? based on the very first Chili Peppers hits collection with tracks mostly culled from their Eighties output with the addition of "Under the Bridge" to make the collection commercial.

Prior to the concert, Emma and I familiarised ourselves with the RHCP oeuvre and speculatively discussed which hits would be played. Emma feared that the set would be weighted towards songs from the latest album, I'm WIth You, that she was not so keen on, and would not have sufficient of the hits she loved. My guess was that RHCP would play the typical stadium set, especially in a country they are visiting or the first time, of concentrating on the crowd-pleasing big hits with only a minimal amount of very new songs.

I am not very familiar with the bulk of RHCP tunes anyway. My knowledge is limited to tracks played on Radio 5 / 5 FM in the years when I still listened to rock radio. In fact, as I was hardly a RHCP fan, I did not understand why I would spend money on going to see them in a stadium which is hardly my favourite type of venue either. It was mostly about the event of being at the concert, as a middle-aged guy, of an act I would not have thought I would ever have the opportunity of seeing in my home town than the delight of attending a gig by a band I’d been following for years and years.

My fondest memories of RHCP music are from the early Nineties when the hard rock and funk elements were still very much in place. When I listened to Emma playing Stadium Arcadium, my impression was that RHCP had become an anthem band with big tunes and sentimental lyrics, with less of the relentless hard rock. Perhaps it is because the band members are much older now or perhaps it is down to the commercial realization that radio friendly songs sell better than stone funk jams. Unfortunately, the big anthems also tended to blend together in an undistinguishable pool in the same way the furious hard funk workouts tend to do.

South African international techno/hip-hop sensation Die Antwoord, the hugely successful project by Waddy Tudor Jones and wife Yolandi, opened for RHCP and I was quite disappointed by them. I had thought of Die Antwoord as a hip-hop outfit but this performance was more techno; excessively loud, unrelenting techno at that. The thirty or forty-minute blast of sound with shouted, often unintelligible vocals was just a waste of time. I own Die Antwoord’s the debut album and I’d seen a bunch of their clips on YouTube. The accumulated evidence made it seem as if the band would be a lot of party fun on stage. On this night that fond expectation was shattered. They would have done better to perform indoors at a huge party, I guess.  I was not entertained by Die Antwoord.

The Chili Peppers were in their late forties already, a strange age to be playing the hard funk rock they do, much as it is strange for Metallica to be doing their thing (not to mention the many other rock acts from the Seventies and Eighties that still tour), but currently, with the Rolling Stones as example, there is no reason why a band cannot keep on doing the same thing for the forty-year period its career might last. there I no reason why (even young rebels as they were) RHCP should be an exception. At this gig, they played as loud and hard as always.

It was indeed a “greatest hits” set and I recongised enough of them to feel that I’d heard the best. Unfortunately, the sound quality in the huge half-filled stadium was deplorable. From where we sat on the stand, about 500 metres from the stage and to one side of it, I could not see much, even on the big screens, and what I heard was just a loud wall-of-sound roar of rhythmic noise rather than individually defined tunes. The well-known songs stood out because of the recognizable hooks but the rest were just lost in the sonic assault, at least to me. The die-hard fans probably recognised every single song.

This was the second of four gigs I attended at Cape Town Stadium.   The first one was with Von-Mari, for U2’s 360° tour, when we were closer to the stage but on the side of it, in a stadium that was filled. Unfortunately, the sound was dire as well; just a huge sound cloud. The third time was for Kings of Leon, on a troubled tour just before they kind of imploded for a while, with Tessa, and although our seats was at the same spot as for the RHCP concert, and I still couldn’t see much, the sound was pristine, clear and sharp. The fourth gig, and so far, the last, at the end of 2014, was The Foo Fighters, again with Tessa. This time I’d bought Golden Circle tickets and we early enough to get very decent standing space about 50 yards from the stage, to the one side. From that position the sound was loud and clear, as were the giant video screens. It was so loud that I left the stadium temporarily deafened, something I hadn’t experienced in many years, as I no longer go to club shows.

The other premier concert venue in Metropolitan Cape Town is the Grand West Arena in Goodwood, which has a capacity of about 8000 people.  Metallica played there after changing the venue from the stadium, for which I had tickets. I did not attend the Metallica gig because the person I would have gone with was not keen on driving out there. Pity, at it seems that the gig was quite good. I never found out why the Metallica gig was moved but it might well have been due to poor tickets sales that would have left the stadium more than half empty. It is a giant space to fill and even 8000 to 15 000 attendees would make it look very empty.

The Grand West Area has the benefit of good acoustics and a superior sound system, which, to my mind, makes it a far more ideal venue, and probably more financially viable, than the stadium unless there is a virtual sell out.

As far as I know, the Foo Fighters were the last big rock act to play at the stadium and I do not even recollect any other such acts visiting Cape Town since that gig in 2014. There have been other international acts who’ve visited but they are not the giants of the scene and seem to come only for the big festivals like Oppikoppi and Rocking the Daisies. 

The U2 and RHCP concerts were evidence enough, I think, unless careful attention is paid to the sound set up, that shows in the cavernous Cape Town stadium, whether at capacity or half full, will not be satisfactory experiences if one does not have a Golden Circle ticket.  Apart from the expense of putting on a gig that does not attract a sellout audience, that would be the decisive factor militating against the stadium becoming the most important venue for international rock unless they are legendary superstars.

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