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Red Hot and fresh on their home court

The Chili Peppers leap and slam at the Forum like their Laker hero Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

September 02, 2006|Richard Cromelin | Times Staff Writer

One thing about the Red Hot Chili Peppers' hometown concerts -- wherever they may be, there's usually a story.

At a 2005 benefit performance at the Greek Theatre, the band's bassist Flea took a moment to reminisce about sneaking into shows and graduating from high school at the outdoor venue.

And on Thursday at the Forum, he recalled his mother bringing him to see then Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar play basketball at the Inglewood arena. "I had some of the best times in my life ever in this building," he told the audience on the first of the band's two sold-out shows there.

That was an appropriate memory, because as they near their silver anniversary as a band, the Chili Peppers are in a zone that's similar to the one occupied by the '80s Lakers teams they idolized. Something about the effortless command, the joy of the game, the utter confidence and fierce focus.

It was around 1999's "Californication" album that the group hit this stride, transcending the tangles of its turbulent history to achieve a hard-won stability, not to mention huge commercial success and an expanded, cross-generational audience.

But instead of succumbing to the artistic stasis that accompanies this process for most bands, the Chili Peppers arrived at a liberating form of performance.

It's one that's become increasingly realized over the years, and at the Forum on Thursday, it was the manner as much as the music that set the tone. There's an intangible but palpable balance at work, a state in which nothing is forced or unnatural and not a false gesture is allowed.

They make a big sound and are a big record-selling enterprise, but when Flea, drummer Chad Smith and guitarist John Frusciante cluster on stage and feel out a groove, they're as musically intimate and alive to the moment as a jazz combo in a little club.

Singer Anthony Keidis' high jumps and full-body spasms are spaced judiciously for maximum effect now, and the overall tone is as sweetly soulful as physically kinetic. You might chalk that up to mellowing, but it would be hard to find another band emitting this much commitment and primal force after 23 years.

Not to mention creative drive. Thursday's show was enriched by several songs from the recently released "Stadium Arcadium," a two-CD collection that adds a whole new set of musical shapes and emotional tones, just when it seemed as if they'd be rewriting their few key motifs indefinitely.

"Dani California" shook the dust off with its Southern rock riffing, and such songs as "Charlie," "Snow (Hey Oh)," "Tell Me Baby" and "21st Century" had the feel of instant fixtures in the Peppers' repertoire.

This evolution provided a sense of movement and restlessness, while the endless stream of standards -- "Scar Tissue," "Californication," "Give It Away" -- reinforced the connection and community that are essential aspects of the band's appeal. That they still sound fresh illustrates the difference between vital ritual and dry routine.


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