Jon Pareles, New York Times:
On Friday night at Madison Square Garden, it looked like the same old Red Hot Chili Peppers: shirtless, sweaty, rowdy and pumping out funk vamps. But 13 years into its career, the group has learned some new tricks and has upgraded its old ones.
A camera crew from MTV, broadcasting internationally, caught the antics Chili Peppers who fans expect. Anthony Kiedis, the band's lead singer, rapped, yowled and occasionally crooned; he and Flea, on bass, high-kicked, puffed out their chests, pumped their hips and traded banter laced with four-letter words. A mosh pit on the front half of the Garden floor stayed active. Yet with a new guitarist, Dave Navarro, and material from their current album, "One Hot Minute" (Warner Brothers), the Red Hot Chili Peppers have pushed their music past its established routines.
The band has always drawn on 1970's funk, artfully and sometimes blatantly mimicking the deep dance grooves of James Brown, George Clinton, Kool and the Gang, Cameo and Stevie Wonder. While Mr. Kiedis has never been a gifted singer, he can rap clearly and fast, and he's versatile enough for music that shifts between rapped verses and rock-song choruses. Just as important, his muscles, long hair and tattoos have made him a rock pinup, and as he romps around the stage he becomes a living advertisement for the songs' combination of come-ons and pagan philosophizing. In an encore, Mr. Kiedis's role model, Iggy Pop, still lithe at 48, showed up to dance and growl through the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog."
On the Chili Peppers' two most recent albums, the band has moved beyond its old party-hearty songs. Early in the set, Mr. Kiedis sang, "I like pleasure spiked with pain," and at the concert invitations to pleasure like "Suck My Kiss" were juxtaposed with the painful memories and confessions of "Under the Bridge" and "Warped." There was also some brawny utopianism in "One Big Mob," a paean to universal kinship: "Take care of me/'Cause I might be you."
As the songs have broadened their messages, the music has also grown more expansive, and Mr. Navarro, formerly of Jane's Addiction, is clearly the catalyst. He knows his funk, snapping out syncopated chords or working the wah-wah pedal alongside Flea's thumb-popping bass lines and Chad Smith's robust drumming. But he also adds melody and wailing psychedelic leads to the band's entrenched funk and hard rock, and he makes the band far more flexible. Recent songs like "Deep Kick" and "Warped" wandered through multiple styles, while older material like "Give It Away" and "Backwoods" riffed hard, then floated into free-form jams.
Where the old Chili Peppers had worked out a winning but limited formula, the new band revitalizes it by ignoring the old boundaries. The Chili Peppers have begun to put their music where their words are.