The last time John Frusciante played the UK with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tony Blair had only just resigned as prime minister. Before austerity, before Brexit, before COVID, the Chilis were riding high on the success of Stadium Arcadium, playing headline performances at Reading and Leeds Festivals which would also turn out to be their last shows with the guitarist for almost 15 years.
Clearly the band are as chuffed to have him back in the fold as the fans however, Frusciante taking centre-stage for the group's customary intro jam which also serves as a handy warning call for wayward funk rock fans still filling their faces with Quesadillas. With support A$AP Rocky apparently waylaid on the way to Manchester, the Chili's first UK show in six years kicks off almost 30 minutes ahead of schedule, the band arriving with little fanfare and getting stuck right in with a lengthy instrumental jam that also nodded to local heroes Joy Division with a segment of Shadowplay.
It sets the tone for the night; fun, laid-back funk laced alt-rock with few frills. The Red Hot Chili Peppers appear to be playing things fairly basic on this current run, the stage production surprisingly understated for a band of their size and pedigree. Take away the jumbotron screens and electric kaleidoscope backdrop and the show is more akin to something you'd have found in some Los Angeles basement venue in the mid-80s; shirtless, sweaty men having a blast playing the music they love.
In that, the return of the Red Hot Chili Peppers feels like the best kind of nostalgia trip you could hope for. The ravages of time seem to have hardly fazed the band; bassist Flea leaps about the stage like a particularly hyperactive iteration of his namesake, while drummer Chad Smith, Frusciante and singer Anthony Kiedis could have been preserved in amber for the minimal aesthetic changes since this line-up last played the UK.
With the sun mercifully reducing its glare to a lazy glow, there's a comfortable ambiance to Old Trafford that is only enhanced by the one-two serving of massive hits Dani California and Universally Speaking (played for the first time in almost 20 years). Red Hot Chili Peppers' strongest weapon (commercially, certainly) has always been in how they balance out Flea's funk physicality with the alt-rock nuance and emotional depth of Frusciante's playing.
Their Manchester set is a strong reflection of that; gentle, lulling guitar tones create a neat through-line between songs like These Are The Ways and Hey, while the evening's biggest moments invariably come with massive alt-rock sing-alongs Snow (Hey Oh), Californication or Black Summer.
This also highlights the auspicious absence of some of the band's biggest hits, however. Under The Bridge, Otherside and Scar Tissue are nowhere to be found from the band's more soulful, emotive territories, and while the high energy funk of Right On Time, Suck My Kiss and Give It Away lend a sense of bombast, it hardly feels like the sheer exhiliration of a Can't Stop or Fortune Faded (though what sounds like a cheeky snippet of Black Sabbath's Sweet Leaf at the end of Give It Away is certainly appreciated).
A colossal runthrough of By The Way closes out the evening with exactly the kind of high-energy adrenaline you might want for the big finish, bringing a big enough dose of funk to surely please the land that spawned the likes of the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. But with the clock barely striking 10, it all feels a bit too early to be packing up and the audience stand around visibly confused as the Chilis steal off into the night, letting A$AP Rocky finally take to the stage for his 'support' slot (now taking place after the main set).
It's all a bit confusing, but fan nonetheless bask in a warm post-show afterglow. Almost 40 years since they first emerged, the Red Hot Chili Peppers still have a magic that rolls the clock back to simpler times. But with so many massive hits left off the table (admittedly, an inevitability of any band of this size and longevity) and so little to get the blood pumping, the Chili's return to Manchester feels like a dress rehearsal for the all-conquering force fans know they can be.
Red Hot Chili Peppers setlist, Manchester June 22 2022
- Intro jam (snippet of Joy Divison's Shadowplay and Funkadelic's Hardcore Jollies)
- Around The World
- Dani California
- Universally Speaking
- I Like Dirt
- These Are The Ways
- One Way Traffic
- Right On Time
- Here Ever After
- Suck My Kiss
- Snow (Hey Oh)
- Black Summer
- Soul To Squeeze
- Give It Away (snippet of Black Sabbath's Sweet Leaf)
- I Could Have Lied
- By The Way