In the midst of a sweeping tour of stadiums around the globe, Red Hot Chili Peppers on Tuesday made an unusual stop at Upper Manhattan’s famed Apollo Theater to herald the launch of their new SiriusXM station, Whole Lotta Red Hot (Ch. 315), with the latest installment of the satellite radio giant’s Small Stage Series.
The 1,500-capacity theater is a far cry from nearby MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, where the alt-rock heroes performed to tens of thousands of fans just last month. The magnitude of the underplay would have been noteworthy on its own, but the importance of this particular theater—an embodiment of Harlem’s history as an epicenter of Black culture—gave this invite-only performance by one of the world’s biggest bands the makings of a historic event.
The unique significance of this show wasn’t lost on the Big Apple elite. Fans could spot the likes of Colin Jost and Scarlett Johnasson in the orchestra or Questlove geeking out on the stage left box or NBA star Kevin Love towering head-and-shoulders over masses that bustled between the open bar, the free merch stands, and the packed balconies. Alongside the celebrities—you can count Jason Biggs, Sway Colloway, Stella Maxwell, Henrik Lundqvist, Michael J. Fox, Paul Rosenberg, Dave Portnoy, Alexandra and Theodora Richards, John McEnroe, and more on that list, too—were roughly 500 lucky SiriusXM subscribers. Each of them had won a coveted pair of free tickets to the show, and the palpable mix of anticipation and disbelief that permeated the audience pre-show underscored their ample gratitude for the invitation.
While the tour’s production was necessarily scaled down, the band blasted through a 90-minute set with the same outsize intensity that invigorated the world’s biggest stadiums night after night this summer. As the Red Hot Chili Peppers worked through a mix of old favorites from throughout their discography and selections from their first of two 2022 LPs, the chart-topping Unlimited Love, those in the room got an intimate view of the athletic exuberance that most have only witnessed via jumbotron.
Chad Smith is a large man, and the way he bursts with rockstar showmanship while maintaining a thundering rhythm seems to further dwarf the drum kit in front of him, which still bears tribute to the late Taylor Hawkins. Flea is not a large man, but his magnetic presence amplifies his stature exponentially on stage. Perpetually bouncing, often leaping skyward, and once even walking across the stage on his hands, the bassist’s enthusiasm implored the audience not to blink throughout the set.
Guitarist John Frusciante, the prodigal son, played a stoic foil to Flea and Smith, his mercurial intonation and mastery of distortion saying all it needed to as he peered out from behind a curtain of neck-length hair. Frontman Anthony Kiedis joined in after an instrumental intro jam for a walloping “Can’t Stop” to start the show in earnest, his charismatic attitude and distinctive delivery still in a league of their own nearly four decades on.
This was an Apollo show as much as it was a Red Hot Chili Peppers show. The “Tree of Hope,” sat on its pedestal at stage right, giving each of the Peppers a bit of its luck. The band members conveyed their reverence for the building’s history on numerous occasions, referring to the experience as “a small episode of The Twilight Zone” and voicing realizations like “Duke Ellington played on this f—ing stage, this is a holy place” between songs.
A surprise introduction by comedian Chris Rock, an Apollo vet who has both recorded his own specials and starred in a major motion picture as a comic aspiring to play the Apollo, felt like a mutual nod of respect between Harlem entertainment culture and the global fanbase the Chili Peppers built out of Southern California. [Note: We officially agree with Kiedis that Rock is both handsome and cute in person].
You could even take the rare, late-set rendition of Funkadelic‘s “What Is Soul?” as an homage of sorts, a direct celebration of the Black funk style that so influenced this band’s sound and success. The song, a longtime live cover for the band, has gone missing from most setlists this tour, and its reintroduction felt poignant on this memorable night in Harlem. Wherever Red Hot Chili Peppers figure into the grand scheme of cultural currents, on this night, Unlimited Love felt like an accurate description of their perspective.
Scroll down to check out a selection of crowd-shot videos of Red Hot Chili Peppers performing at the Apollo Theater as part of SiriusXM’s Small Stage Series as well as a gallery of photos via Kevin Mazur/Getty Images.
Red Hot Cili Peppers – “Here Ever After” – 9/13/22
Red Hot Cili Peppers – “These Are The Ways” – 9/13/22
Red Hot Cili Peppers – “The Heavy Wing” – 9/13/22
Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Dani California”– 9/13/22
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Apollo Jam – 9/13/22
Setlist: Red Hot Chili Peppers | Apollo Theater | New York, NY | 9/13/22
Set: Intro Jam, Can’t Stop, Dani California, Here Ever After, Snow (Hey Oh), These Are the Ways, Soul to Squeeze, London Calling Jam > Right on Time, Otherside, The Heavy Wing, Black Summer, Californication, What Is Soul? (Funkadelic), Give It Away
Encore: By the Way
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