“We are their students!,” exclaimed Flea, the inimitable bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, as his band invited Meters legends George Porter Jr. and Zigaboo Modeliste to join them for a funkified finale at the Acura Stage on Sunday.
Nearly 10 years after the Chili Peppers made Voodoo Fest history by teaming up with the full Meters lineup for a phenomenal, “Hand Clapping Song”-centered jam session, the rockers returned to the Crescent City for a closer of similarly epic proportions. However this time the collaboration was based around a Chili Peppers original, the Blood Sugar Sex Magik anthem “Give It Away.”
Drummer Chad Smith spent most of the jam in visible awe of Modeliste’s prowess behind the kit, while Flea and Porter built up a double bass crescendo that culminated in a rousing solo from Porter. Ivan Neville also took part in the number, occasionally adding a welcome layer of keys that proved he’s as much a student of the Meters (and of his uncle Art Neville) as the guys in RHCP.
The “Give It Away” climax marked the end of more or less hits-filled set that–thankfully–only featured a couple of tracks from the band’s underwhelming 2011 album I’m With You. Naturally, the concert began with perennial opener “Can’t Stop” before working through fan favorites like “Scar Tissue,” “Aeroplane,” “Under the Bridge” and an appropriate rendition of upcoming Jazz Fest headliner Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” Chili Peppers staples “Suck My Kiss” and “Californication” came with altered guitar solos, as relatively recent addition Josh Klingoffer turned classic guitarist John Frusciante’s memorable riffs into something a bit more restrained.
In true Chili Peppers fashion, Flea and singer Anthony Kiedis spent much of the show leaping about the stage as the festival’s jumbo screens broadcast their motions through a jittery camera lens that mimicked the band’s unpredictable energy. It was a fine showing that reached its conclusion at a much-too-early 6:40, a full 20 minutes before the performance was scheduled to end.
Timing aside, Sunday’s set was as good as rock headliners come at the Acura Stage, though the show is unlikely to live on in local rock memory the same way their 2006 Voodoo Fest show does. Klinghoffer is a fantastic guitarist, but nothing touches the unfettered chemistry of the band’s classic lineup with Frusciante. Combine that with the show’s abbreviated runtime–six songs shorter than their Voodoo effort–and you’ve got a couple of reasons why the gig just didn’t reach the admittedly high heights of that classic 2006 offering.
It was a hell of a show nonetheless, and a refreshing reminder that the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, are one of the most important rock bands of their generation. Their insistence on bringing New Orleans funk royalty into the fold is yet another sign of this city’s lasting influence on world culture at large. It may not have been their greatest NOLA show to date, but the good times rolled just fine anyway.