By Cameron Lee
September 4, 2022
The skies couldn’t be clearer for what may have been the concert of the year in Charlotte. While The Rolling Stones awed fans with their performance nearly a year ago at Bank of America Stadium, Thursday night’s show felt different, with three acts worthy of their own headlining ticket.
It was a rare sight, as the six-string bass virtuoso Stephen Lee Bruner, best known by his stage name Thundercat took the stage to a still majority empty stadium. The long-time collaborator of West Coast musical titans like Kamasi Washington and Kendrick Lamar casually strolled out onto the stage in his signature yellow and black “uniform” in front of a cat stage prop with flashing eyes, and greeted the audience before introducing his band members: acclaimed pianist Dennis Hamm and jazz drum wizard Justin Brown. They jumped right into a drum solo by Brown before the intro song from Thundercat’s latest album, It Is What It Is, “Lost In Space / Great Scott / 22-26.” It didn’t take long for Thundercat to show off his musical proficiency– the former punk rock (Suicidal Tendencies) bassist’s fingers danced frantically across the strings of his custom Ibanez bass guitar. Playfully interacting with the crowd he flexed his vocal chops with his most recognized songs, “Dragonball Durag,” “Funny Things,” and “Them Changes.” It was a short six-song set that started promptly at 6:30 p.m., but an excellent musical prologue for the evening’s entertainment.
As Thundercat’s set cleared, The Strokes’ gleaming logo was unveiled on the big screen, building anticipation for the band’s first performance in Charlotte since 2004. They walked onto the stage as Julian Casablancas bowed to the crowd before they got right into “Meet Me in the Bathroom” from the band’s 2004 album, Room on Fire, the album that brought The Strokes to the Grady Cole Center nearly two decades ago. Donning dark black shades and sipping out of a red solo cup, Casablancas engaged the crowd with his typical off-hand banter, citing, “Good vibe, for a stadium, but still a good vibe.” They then picked up the tempo with “Barely Legal” from their first album Is This It, and “Bad Decisions” from their latest album, The New Abnormal.
While the energy from the crowd was a bit anemic, Casablancas put on one of his tighter sets, although they only played ten songs. He continued his subdued chatter between songs, complimenting the city for the “neon colors on the buildings” and saying that “it’s rare in this day and age to be in a downtown that is not totally dilapidated and abandoned.” While Casablancas’ commentary might not have landed too well, his voice was robust blasting over the massive stadium speakers while the glimmering guitar notes by Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. were best highlighted by “The Adults Are Talking” and “Reptilia.” A little after 8 p.m. as the sun began to set, a mist surrounded the colorful purple and blue glimmer of the stage lights as The Strokes strummed the first notes of 2001’s “Someday,” which probably evoked some nostalgia for early fans of the band. While The Strokes didn’t play their most popular song “Last Nite” (which they have seldom played on this tour), they did end with a rapturous performance of “Reptilia,” complete with a glowing fluorescent green backdrop to close the set.
As The Strokes’ set ended right at 8:12 p.m., the stadium was nearing three-quarters capacity as the changeover began for the night’s headlining act. When the clock struck 8:45 p.m. the crowd was treated to an ear-bending instrumental jam by bassist Flea, drummer Chad Smith and guitarist John Frusciante. This tour marks the return of highly acclaimed guitarist John Frusciante who performed with the Chili Peppers for the first time in 13 years in 2020, and worked with the band on their latest album, Unlimited Love; their first with Frusciante in sixteen years.
After the instrumental welcome, it was time to get down to business. The lights strobed to the rhythm of Smith’s thunderous drums and Anthony Kiedis skipped onto the stage to sing “Can’t Stop” from 2002’s By The Way. It was an ideal opener that jolted the crowd out of their seats for the first time all evening. A short drum solo followed by some bizarre vocal scatting by Flea was the first of many bursts of instrumentation between songs. Slowing the pace for “Dani California,” the band then eased into “Scar Tissue” from their most commercially successful album, Californication, culminating with a tantalizing guitar solo by Frusciante.
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“Here Ever After” was the first of four songs performed from their newest album, Unlimited Love. With “Snow (Hey Ho)” from 2006’s double album Stadium Arcadia and the popular B-side single “Soul to Squeeze” highlighting the middle of the near two-hour-long set, Flea rambunctiously thanked the opening acts and subtly joked the afterparty would be at Pinky’s.
The biggest sing-a-long moment came with the somber track, “Otherside,” a song dedicated to the often forgotten original guitarist of RHCP, Hillel Slovak, who died of a heroin overdose in 1988. A long instrumental jam between Flea and Frusciante set the mood for “Californication,” before the band brought the energy back up for their breakthrough 1991 single, “Give It Away,” from Blood Sugar Sex Magik. After the encore ovation, the band finished with “I Could Have Lied” and “By The Way” to the dismay of some who might have expected “Under The Bridge,” another massive hit from their 1991 album.
Despite the late-arriving crowd and two anticlimactic encores that left out, arguably, two of the most crowd-pleasing tracks, “Last Nite” by The Strokes and “Under The Bridge” by the headliners, fans were treated to a special evening under the clear blue Carolina skies. Almost 40 years after the Red Hot Chili Peppers were originally formed, Kiedis and company performed their deep catalog of hits, spanning multiple generations and iterations of the band. It will certainly be a concert that will be remembered for years to come in Charlotte.
Red Hot Chili Peppers setlist:
Here Ever After
Snow (Hey Oh)
These Are the Ways
Soul to Squeeze
Nobody Weird Like Me
The Heavy Wing
Give It Away
I Could Have Lied
By the Way
The Strokes setlist:
Meet Me in the Bathroom
Under Cover of Darkness
Hard to Explain
The Adults Are Talking
You Only Live Once
Lost in Space / Great Scott / 22-26