The Red Hot Chili Peppers, wearing pants and tattoos, strut the stage like chickens on steroids.
The music isn’t so hot and the California-based band doesn’t live up to its name. They are more like lukewarm vanilla pods.
Then the bass player, Flea, threatens to drop his pants. Onstage wit isn’t a strong point for the funk-rock quartet, yet his comment is a high point of amusement amid a mostly boredom-baiting set. The clothes stay in place.
The group is playing London’s O2 Arena as part of a tour in support of “I’m With You,” its 10th studio album, released in August. The Chilis have sold more than 70 million records, with the breakthrough on 1991’s “Blood Sugar Sex Magik,” which compacted hard rock and funk into a taught, scrawny blast. While guitarists have changed and psychedelic and classic rock styles are dabbled in, this remains the basis of the Chilis’ sound.
There’s backbone to the playing in some ferocious jams. Flea is a coil of energy, slapping out hyperactive bass-lines around Chad Smith’s knife-fighting drums. Josh Klinghoffer, who joined in 2009, chugs out barbs of distorted guitar funk.
Unfortunately, there’s little flesh to these workouts. As anyone who has waded through 2006’s “Stadium Arcadium” album (only to realize there is a whole, full-length, second CD still to go) will attest, the song craft has its limitations.
Too many numbers are structured with the sophistication of a toddler’s Lego effort. The punch of the playing flabbily dissipates into the vast space of the O2.
A few songs, clustered at the end of the gig, buck the trend. A cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” thrashes with tension. The classic L.A. rock of “Californication” soars, if not quite like the Eagles, then at least like a well-fed vulture. “By the Way” is explosive. It isn’t quite enough.
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)