On Saturday night the Red Hot Chili Peppers made their third headlining appearance at Lollapalooza (the others were in 1992 and 2006). But it almost didn’t happen. Earlier in the day heavy winds and rains led to an evacuation of the festival grounds  and threatened to result in a cancellation of the remainder of the afternoon and evening’s performances. Fortunately the storm passed and gates reopened late in the afternoon, causing only a slight disturbance in scheduling.

In the case of the Chili Peppers, this meant taking the stage an hour later than planned, and to a perhaps more anticipatory—and certainly muddier—crowd. The band appeared on the Red Bull Soundstage at the south end of the festival grounds just after nine p.m. and kicked off their set with “Monarchy of Roses,” from their most recent effort, I’m With You. From there they shifted into more well known territory—”Around the World,” was followed by the more mellow hits “Snow (Hey Oh)” and “Otherside,” both of which inspired massive singalongs. The rest of the set likewise stuck to songs from the band’s more recent period, a timeframe that began with their rejuvenation in 1999 and the release of the Californication album. Though they did reach back to 1991’s landmark Blood Sugar Sex Magik for four songs—”If You Had to Ask,” “Suck My Kiss,” the massive ballad “Under the Bridge” and the show closing “Give It Away.”

While early on in the show the band’s sound was marred by a high-end crackle and inconsistent sound levels, these were smoothed out as the set progressed. And the Chili Peppers’ performance and musicianship was top notch throughout. This was most evident in the frequent between-song jam excursions embarked upon by bassist Flea, drummer Chad Smith and new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. Though Klinghoffer had big shoes to fill when he stepped into the spot vacated by former Pepper John Frusciante, he has proved to be a worthy musical addition to the band and a force onstage. On Saturday night he thrashed his body with wild abandon and colored the songs with all manner of inventive and psychedelic guitar licks.

Anthony Kiedis, for his part, is one of those rare rock vocalists whose voice has actually improved with age. In fact, 25 years in it is quite possible that the Chili Peppers are one of the best live acts going. At the very least, they’re a band practically tailor-made to top a festival bill, with a catalog that is deep and beloved, seemingly limitless onstage energy, and an ability to make even their most lyrically bleak songs—”Under the Bridge,” “By the Way”— sound musically uplifting. It’s no wonder they’ve found themselves bestowed with the task of closing out Lollapalooza three times. In all likelihood, there will be more headlining performances ahead.

Richard Bienstock


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