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Red Hot Chili Peppers: Then and Now

The Red Hot Chili Peppers continued their North America tour with a stop over in Duluth, Georgia last Tuesday, showcasing their 10th album I’m with You and heralding a new era in the band’s music style.

During the Georgia show, the Chilis flashed their routine musical athleticism at screaming fans who savored old tunes while being introduced the band’s new make-over, bringing in musical wiz kid Josh Klinghoffer to replace John Frusciante.

In the Georgia show, all eyes were on Klinghoffer (pictured right) who successfully marked his territory as he kept up with Flea’s manically-fast paced bass playing and Anthony Kiedis’ languid singing style.

The former Ataxia member, who has collaborated with PJ Harvey, The Butthole Surfers and Beck, adds his own electronica sound to the band’s music, something fans will have to get accustomed to. Go on Twitter and elsewhere to see how fans and critics strongly diverge on the RHCP’s new sound.

Flea performed like that beloved whirling dervish onstage we know, that tantric bass player who brings electricity to the crowds. Fit and youthful in his late forties, the Australian-born musical prodigy is a virtuoso jazz player. He showed passion and the endurance of an athlete on stage, leaping from one end of the stage to another and never missing a beat.

The soulful Anthony Kiedis’s (pictured left) singing, ever evocative, at times brings us humorous rapture and other times, lament. We can’t help but think of the band’s recent conflicts with the loss of Hillel Slovak to heroin overdose and Keidis’ own personal battle with addiction.

As for their comeback album, I’m with You is sleeker and wistful, a break-away from the George Clinton-inspired funk the Chilis are known for. It has memorable moments, but overall, it fails to deliver poignant new material for the hungry crowds who waited patiently after the group went on a two-year break.

At times, it veers from experimentation to complete lack of direction. We hear less of the tribal-funk percussion so characteristic of their music and more electronic, guitar reverbs and even some disco references from the 1970s. It is a cornucopia of new sounds that tries to appeal to a new generation, but rehashed with more recognizable Chili rapping and funk sounds.

Released in 2011, the album has yet to provide the RHCP with a straight number one hit in the United States. Despite heavy marketing, it lacks grit and vision compared with previous ones. A certain vibe or chemistry is missing since the departure of Frusciante, who left the band in 2006 to immerse himself in more experimental projects with members from The Mars Volta and other musicians. Whether his departure was in good form or not is uncertain, but he has told reporters he does not wish to join the band in their induction ceremony Saturday in Los Angeles.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers of today provide wider audiences with a real spectacle but still in the framework of the corporate show- biz. Their aggressive marketing campaign on iTunes, ESPN and the NFL paid back, according to Billboard and the band’s iTunes listening party last year drew more than 36,000 downloads. Billboard has a comprehensive report on their multi-layered marketing scheme worth reading.

The question inevitably is, have they sold their souls to the corporate music world or are they playing for the love of music?

The RHCP have been together for more than 30 years now. The middle-aged band appears to be soul-searching for a new identity as it enters the age of corporate music which tends to cater to the iTunes crowd.

The RHCP’s audience seems to be a very diverse yet loyal group who are moved by the band’s parliament inspired, grungy funk.

The departure of Frusciante has definitely left a vacuum that can never be filled. We are not just missing his great skills, but his devotion to making great music while disregarding commercial pressure. But that thought has not escaped flea either, according to his Twitter account:

When I see live music, all I care about is that the performers are completely lost in what they are doing. More than the quality of music.

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