Red Hot Chili Peppers at FEQ: plenty of heat but no fire

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Photo: Renaud Philippe - FEQ

Red Hot Chili Peppers’ lead singer Anthony Kiedis croons to the crowd, bassist Flea jumps into action, and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer makes new fans with his Québec Nordiques tuque.

The conditions were ideal for what should have been the crown jewel of this year’s Festival d’Été de Québec (FEQ) line-up. The crushing heat and thunderstorms of the day before had dissipated and the heart of the city was pulsing as early as mid-day, with music lovers packing the streets and outdoor patios to soak up the final weekend of one of the largest urban music festivals in North America. 

Everything was in place for a magical night, and it wasn’t for lack of trying that the Red Hot Chili Peppers didn’t quite set fire to the Plains of Abraham Saturday night. Despite being in their fifties, drummer Chad Smith and bassist Flea charged on stage with manic energy, banging and strumming a number of the band’s hits, balanced with new material and deeper cuts meant to please true fans of the Californian funk-rock ensemble.

 Lead singer Anthony Kiedis showed no signs of his recent knee injury, dancing around the stage in a pair of “funky fresh” shorts that 1991 called to report missing. He delivered an efficient show, pausing only twice, and that was to thank the audience. 

“New” band member, guitarist Josh Klinghoffer (who has been a permanent fixture since 2010) rocked hard, despite his reputation as the mildest Pepper.

 Unfortunately, the band was plagued by sound problems, beginning with Klinghoffer’s guitar, which was significantly quieter than the other instruments. Sound issues may also explain the off-key vocals as Kiedis launched into the normally melodic “Otherside.” The singer walked offstage repeatedly during the set, all the while fiddling with his in-ear monitor. The overall effect was that the amped up energy on stage at times looked like a completely different concert from what the audience was hearing.

 Yet even an unremarkable set by the Red Hot Chili Peppers makes for a remarkable night. The Bell Stage saw the largest audience of this year’s festival, and a number of frenzied fans needed to be carried away on stretchers. This seemed to alarm Flea; the bassist asked the crowd to be careful with one another, telling them: “Everything that you can do to be gentle and supportive of your neighbour would make me happy, I tell you that.”

 Not long after, a teenage boy was hoisted above the crowd in his wheelchair, drawing the attention of a grinning Klinghoffer, who walked downstage to play before the elated youth and his supporters. 

The audience cheered wholeheartedly near the end of the night, right before the reward of a soulful rendition of “Under the Bridge,” which prompted a show of mobile phone lights as the crowd swayed gently. The encore showed the Chili Peppers’ true showmanship, as the explosive “Around the World” and “Give it Away” left everyone wanting more.

 It cannot be understated how highly anticipated this concert was for local rock fans. Ever since the FEQ’s video launch of their 2016 line-up in mid-March, which featured the unmistakable bass line of the Chili Peppers’ “Can’t Stop,” Quebec City had been looking forward to this moment. Perhaps it was inevitable that the concert would fall short of certain expectations. Yet in view of an effort that was nothing to be ashamed of, it seems fair to say that the Red Hot Chili Peppers will be welcome back anytime to do it all again.