Red Hot Chili Peppers - Knebworth 2012 review

'A funky two hour celebration of elongated jams and solos'

Photographer:Mark Austin

Kyriaki Karadelis - 24 June 2012

Three things to do in the year before you turn 30: announce you’re releasing nine new double A-side vinyls featuring songs that didn’t quite make it on to your last album, thus proving you’re so good, even your discarded tracks are worth putting out there. Enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Play Knebworth.
 
As the Red Hot Chili Peppers approach their three-decade anniversary in 2013, their date at one of the UK’s most iconic outdoor venues is a must for British fans. Yet the sound quality, line-up and setlist get a divided response, and the weather gets a unanimous (and unprintable) verdict.
 
For those who’ve never been, Knebworth is a pretty stately home with turrets off the M1 north of London, located in grounds that act as a natural amphitheatre. It’s one of the few rock concert sites where the vertically challenged have half a chance of seeing the band.
 
The stately home’s website says it is 1.2 miles from Stevenage train station but this is almost certainly inaccurate – the short walk promised actually takes well in excess of 40 minutes and there’s no shuttle bus. “I reckon they do this on purpose so you don’t go mental when you get in there,” says one voice negotiating the last (uphill) leg of the journey. Mental note: if travelling to Knebworth, always go by coach.
 
Smug coach revellers are permitted to go in an hour early, meaning that by the time VF arrives panting and swearing just as Sheffield songsmiths Reverend & The Makers play their closing bars, 80,000-capacity Knebworth is already heaving.
 
Commercial indie pop purveyors The Wombats and grime god Dizzee Rascal (7/10) follow the Reverend before the Chilis grace the stage – a chart-friendly line-up that delights some and disappoints others among the mid-20s to mid-40s audience. Given the broad demographic, the promoters could have been braver and chosen less mainstream acts with a funkier, punkier edge to match the headliner, but then, at least one audience member says he’s happy to bop along to support that is relatively well known. 
 
Despite missing Reverend & The Makers (8/10), VF is assured by a group of friends from Wellingborough that Jon McClure and his musos get the day off to a good start by trying to encourage a little crowd participation, particularly bouncing.
 
The Wombats (9/10) fit in neatly behind them opening with hit 'Kill the Director', while 'Jump in to the Fog' and a thumping 'Techno Fan' maintain the buoyancy.  Meanwhile, Moving to New York gets 80,000 people chanting “Christmas came early to me” to the former Liverpool performing arts school trio, which must sum up exactly how they feel in the face of such admiration. The band has forgotten its banner, which would go unnoticed ordinarily, but on the Greek temple stage makes them look a bit naked: a loud, riotous performance makes up for it though. Introducing their last song as 'My Heart Will Go On' by Celine Dion, they launch into 'Lets Dance to Joy Division' – the lyrics sounding a bit like “let’s have some pot/I’ve found the cure for a broken heart” where “love will tear us apart” should be – and finally announce they have time for one more, before they launch into an instrumental version of Blur’s 'Song 2', contributing only the “woohoo” vocals.
 
A 30 minute break and some heavier drizzle later, Dizzee Rascal’s appearance causes an initial surge forward among the audience. Armed with decks, an MC and organ-shaking backing tracks, Dizzee Rascal begins with some of the grimier songs from his four studio albums and also airs new tune 'Bassline Junkie', which is, as the title suggests, about an individual who rejects speed, heroine and ketamine, but likes to listen to bass. There appears to be a split emerging between those in the audience who are dancing in rampant ecstasy and those who aren’t interested at all. When Dizzee shouts, “Some people like to drink, Knebworth!” expecting cheers in return, he gets an awkwardly lacklustre response. “I said, some people like to drink, Knebworth!” he asks again to little more enthusiasm. However, the appearance of chart successes 'Fix Up, Look Sharp' and 'Jus’ a Rascal' unite the mood, the latter resulting in an impromptu street-dancing circle at the top of the valley. When superhits 'Dance Wiv Me', 'You Got the Dirtee Love', 'Holiday' and 'Bonkers' come on, most onlookers get into the spirit, echoing “let’s go f*cking  bonkers, dadadada” to the Conga tune (although some draw the line at “oggy oggy oggy, oi oi oi”). Trying to bring Ibiza to a wet Stevenage has backfired a little.
 
The time everyone has been waiting for comes just 15 minutes later than scheduled, beginning with a tantalising clarinet intro. Drenched in green light, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers launch into 'Monarchy of Roses', building up to Flea using his bass as a Spanish guitar in what sets the scene for a passionately funky two-hour celebration of beautifully elongated jams and solos.

It’s Flea that leads the banter tonight throughout, initially thanking The Wombats for “making my c*ck stand up and cheer” and later imploring the crowd to support live music. During 'Around the World' strobe lights rhythmically catch the rain, creating an atmospheric confetti-like vision. By 'Dani California', however, there are irritating sound issues. Anthony Kiedis’ vocal is audibly louder than the accompanying guitar, which is difficult to hear. As the time goes on, the concert’s noise levels waver, something that may be down to the worsening weather. Otherside, 'Look Around' and 'Throw Away Your Television', lead to a triumphant 'Can’t Stop' and an outfit change from a moustachiod Kiedis who swaps his tails jacket for a hoody and baseball cap.

Later, as Flea performs 'Pea', a camera pans the audience to reveal a large sign citing “RIP Hillel” in reference to the Chili’s original guitarist Hillel Slovak who died of a drug overdose in 1988. 'Under the Bridge', perfectly-cued, comes just as dusk settles, while a head-to-head guitar jam between Flea and Josh Kinghoffer – so close their strumming hands and foreheads are almost touching – later creates a brilliantly tender build-up to 'Californication'. In the half-hour encore, a mind-blowing drum and bongo beat-off shown from a bird’s eye-view on the big screens flanks Flea as he walks across the stage on his hands to get in place for 'Sir Psycho Sexy'. Bluegrass scuffle 'They’re Red Hot' and 'Suck My Kiss' come before a stonking 'Give It Away' to close.
 
There are some notable (possibly criminal) omissions from the setlist including 'The Zephyr Song', 'Scar Tissue' and 'Fortune Faded', but when you have three decades worth of hits to chose from, granted you have to be selective. If anything, it’s a good marketing ploy to make fans come to the next big show.
 


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