“This show is dedicated to Mr Johnny B Goode,” announced Red Hot Chili Peppers front man Anthony Kiedis four songs into his band’s set at Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver last night. “We might not be here without him.”
Every musician playing one of the myriad of genres that sprung out of rock and roll over the past 60 years owes a debt of gratitude to Chuck Berry, whose passing was announced Saturday morning. Berry added speed and swing to country music to practically invent modern music. The Chili Peppers are innovators too; merging rock, rap, punk and funk to create a uniquely mild sound that captures the worst of every genre they choose to plunder.
Not that a packed Rogers Arena seemed to mind. Wiling to overlook an obligatory and indulgent introductory funk jam between drummer Chad Smith, guitarist Josh Klinghoffer and bassist Flea, the crowd erupted with joy at the arrival of Kiedis and the band’s all-hit opening offering of “Can’t Stop,” “Dani California” and “Scar Tissue,” each song a textbook example of the band’s mid-paced, radio friendly recipe for commercial success.
The atmosphere took a brief detour into the avant garde as Flea performed his lone solo tune, the pseudo-polemical “Pea,” declaring “You homophobic redneck d*ck/ You’re big and strong and macho/ You can kick my ass/ So f***ing what?” A one verse rendition of “Johnny B Goode” as an introduction to “Me and My Friends” minutes later provided a temporary injection of pace into proceedings.
Within these brief departures from their standard sonic palette lies the paradox of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Because for a band so eager to prove their unconventional rock and roll credentials (an obsession that repeatedly resulted with unfocussed outbreaks of spontaneous jamming) their own hits continually punch below their weight. Whether new (“Go Robot”) or vintage (“Californication”) the high on-stage energy (Flea in particular needs to be running cardio classes) only highlighted the tepidity of rock songs bereft of both power and hooks.
Kiedis’ shirt was eventually removed in time for the unsubtle but still welcome “Suck My Kiss,” the only song of the night with the sonic depth to genuinely rock. “Under The Bridge,” moments later, was welcomed and sung with religious enthusiasm by the Rogers Arena choir.
Drummer Smith led a chorus of “Chuck! Chuck! Chuck!” as the band returned for its encore accompanied by a projected photo of Berry, the moment of tribute perhaps diluted as Flea returned to the fold by walking across the stage on his hands – the most surprising and entertaining ten seconds of the entire night.
The inevitable finale of “Give It Away” sent Rogers Arena into temporary delirium, but if Chuck Berry was looking down on Vancouver on his first night in rock and roll heaven, it’s doubtful he would have been impressed. Over 60 years have passed since he told Beethoven to roll over, but those crackling slabs of vinyl still sounded hotter than anything the Chili Peppers delivered last night.