- The Washington Times - Friday, January 26, 2007

Think rock longevity and the usual acts come to mind: U2, the Boss and Bob Dylan to name the big three.

Not many would have pegged the Red Hot Chili Peppers for such an elite club back when their idea of stage outfits consisted of four snug socks.

The L.A. quartet’s visit to the Verizon Center Thursday reminded the District just how far the band has come, and how firmly they’ve entrenched themselves in the alt-rock landscape.

It’s also been a while since the Peppers struck counter-cultural fear amongst the parental set.

Thursday’s show featured more than a few fathers with sons in tow, and nothing in the electric stage performance needed a warning label.

That doesn’t mean the Chili formula has essentially changed. Lead singer Anthony Kiedis still grabs the microphone with his forearms in an inverted “V,” his Breck girl hair his constant companion.

And then there’s Flea, the floppy bassist who caromed across the stage as if it were covered with Slinkys. He looked like a shrunken L.A. Laker clad in yellow with purple socks and given the bounce in his step, he probably can sink a three-pointer with ease.

The band took the stage with a jam, not a song, effective foreshadowing of the concert as a whole. The act remains musically precise, but by jamming before most songs it gave the impression the audience stumbled into a rehearsal.

The night drew heavily on “Stadium Arcadium,” the band’s latest release, and only rarely drew deep into their playbook.

Cuts like “Dani California” and “Snow (Hey Oh) showcased the band’s enduring blend of everything from punk to rap. It’s a shame, then, that the night’s song selection kept such breadth at bay.

Too many chosen songs fell into Chili Peppers’ sweet spot, those hard-driving cuts which fall in a similar, if manic, tempo.

That handcuffed the band’s approach, something they finally shattered with a blistering version of “By the Way.”

The Chili Peppers hardly need any visual enhancement, what with the band members’ near constant movement and outsized musicianship. And on again, off again guitarist John Frusciante can contort his body to match how he makes his instrument howl and mourn.

But the tour’s planners had other ideas, creating one of the best stage sets in recent memory. Four roving video screens backed the band, lining up both vertically and horizontally at times to offer close ups of the musicians’ finger play. The backing itself was one big slotted screen which gracefully extended over the audience and deep into the arena.

Opener Gnarls Barkley proved the perfect appetizer with its grandiose stage play and old-school funk.

Singer Cee-Lo Green’s voice got lost in the center’s audio mix at first, but it eventually found its footing on unabashed hits like “Crazy” and “Gone Daddy Gone.”

Still, it’s an instrument better served on disc or download, if Thursday was any indication.

His blistering band was another matter. Band co-leader Danger Mouse led the large ensemble, which included four lovely ladies who provided strings and choreographed movements while wearing baby doll outfits. The women were seated the whole time, but the band’s jubilant music made such restraint an effort.

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