The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees’ mass appeal remains puzzling to some.
Few rock bands are as popular or as polarizing as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who stop by KeyArena on Friday, March 17.
On one hand: six Grammys, tens of millions of records sold, a Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2012 and countless 14-year-olds asking their guitar teachers to show them the intro to “Under The Bridge.”
On the other: the fact that, to a certain kind of listener, the Chili Peppers is something of a punchline. The band isn’t self-evidently awful — that’s Nickelback, a group whose wretchedness is on par with “bacon is good” in terms of basic internet opinions — but its tuneful funk/alternative-rock pastiche has always been puzzling in its mass appeal.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
8 p.m. Friday, March 17, KeyArena, Seattle; $49-$99 (ticketmaster.com).
Much of that is because of Anthony Kiedis. The band’s frontman since its inception in 1983, he’s long penned lyrics that are a near 50-50 split between sexually charged come-ons and utter gibberish, to the extent those things are even mutually exclusive.
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And though it’s impossible to draw a clear causal link between the two, Kiedis’ half-sung, half-rapped delivery has more than a little in common with some of the worst radio rock (e.g., Limp Bizkit) that succeeded it.
The Chili Peppers is touring behind its 11th album, “The Getaway,” which was released last year. It’s the band’s first record since the late ’80s without big-name producer Rick Rubin behind the mixing board. Rubin is widely credited with sculpting and clarifying the group’s sound, helping make a marginal Los Angeles rock band into arena-filling stars. His absence is as impactful as foundational guitarist John Frusciante’s departure in 2009.
In his place is Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, a producer with a penchant for softer sounds and more varied textures. Burton co-wrote five of the album’s tracks, and a few of the album’s instrumentals strongly recall Broken Bells, his psychedelic pop project with James Mercer of The Shins.
But 30-plus years into its career, and with most of its members well into middle age, the band is understandably up to its usual, very successful tricks. The rhythm section of bassist Flea and drummer Chad Smith still hits hard, Kiedis’ often nonsensical lyrics act as a percussive counterpoint rather than words that convey meaning, and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer fills the remaining space.
Friday’s concert, at the very least, will be a showcase for musicianship. The Chili Peppers brings its collective technical prowess to the fore, veering off into extended jammy sequences that aren’t as pronounced on its records. Opener Trombone Shorty (virtuosic multi-instrumentalist Troy Andrews) likewise brings considerable chops to his updated New Orleans jazz sound.