The inclination is strong to view Friday's Red Hot Chili Peppers show at the Wells Fargo Center through a sports-minded prism. After all, the concert was at the home of Philadelphia's beloved pro basketball and hockey teams. And the Southern California band's first greeting to an estimated 20,000 was a hearty "Congratulations on the Sixers!" from bassist (and known knowledgeable hoops fan) Michael "Flea" Balzary (a Lakers loyalist, of course). The final goodbye came from drummer Chad Smith, last to leave after a satisfying, encore-set-closing instrumental jam: "Sorry about your hockey team — but 'Go Sixers!' "
The problem with said approach would be giving short shrift to just how musically excellent the show was. Less than a quarter of the set came from the Chili Peppers latest album, last year's I'm With You. Instead, from their earlier soul-punk sounds to the melancholic maturity of the 1991 hit "Under the Bridge" and 2006's underrated "Dani California" — and through quality covers of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" and Neil Young's "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere," off their brand-new nonoriginals EP — it was a well-paced foray across the catalog of an influential band. (Formed in 1983, RHCP was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last month).
Indeed, the Los Angeles rock quartet (plus exceptional Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco) ultimately pleased the crowd more with notes than words — most fundamentally, from the rubber-fingered Flea on bass, whether by plucking or in signature slap mode. Front man Anthony Kiedis was in good voice if a tad subdued, perhaps understandably. "That was for Adam Yauch," he flatly declared after a lively "Me and My Friends," referring to the recently deceased MCA of the Beastie Boys — a somewhat comparable, longtime buddy-band of the Peps. (After a rousing set from Brooklyn openers Sleigh Bells, the sound system had played all Beasties; after the lights came up, the 'Boys' "Fight for Your Right" blared as thousands exited, loudly singing along in homage.)
Josh Klinghoffer, the latest Peppers' guitarist, replaced virtuoso John Frusciante with his own free-funk chopping, soaring solos and a kaleidoscope of tonal colors (even recalling some luminous, Moonflower-era Santana). "Support music," Flea said later in his farewell. "It's God's voice!" Amen.