Red Hot Chili Peppers
Photo: I-Days

Red Hot Chili Peppers Bring Their Unlimited Love to Milan

Red Hot Chili Peppers mesmerize 70,000 fans with a decades-spanning set and emerge as heartfelt winners of Milan’s outstanding I-Days music festival.

I-Days Milan
22-June 15-July 2023

For enthusiastic and reluctant travelers alike, Milan is the place to be. The informal capital of Northern Italy is resplendent with energy and activity but also cozy and leisurely enough to allow visitors to enjoy the fervor from afar in one of the city’s countless (usually solid) coffeehouses and eateries. Especially in the summer, when most of the 15 million or so yearly tourists flock to enjoy the continental sun and ice cream, the atmosphere of relaxed joy is pleasantly infectious. 

The organizing team of the I-Days Music Festival knows this well, which is why their event is a laid-back, protracted celebration of life, summer, and some of the biggest names around. Taking place intermittently over the course of four weeks on a single gargantuan stage at Milan’s horserace track La Maura, it is a simple, straightforward festival – over seven days total, spread out around the weekends, each festival day a few big, thematically similar names perform mostly 5-11 PM. The slogan “something for everyone” comes to mind, seeing headliners as diverse as  Florence + the Machine, La Rosalía, Travis Scott, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Arctic Monkeys.

Tickets are only sold as day passes for a very reasonable price, ranging from about $50-$75 (US), so everyone can pick and choose the days they want without compromising on affordability. The field (track) itself is just miles away from the city center and can be reached in 20 minutes or less by subway. Onsite, dozens of food and drink stands and hundreds of porta potties ensure the waiting times are tolerable. I-Day Music Festival is a true no-bullshit happening, offering a damn good time for a shockingly meager amount of effort and expense.

That’s not to diminish the endeavors of many other events to scale and proliferate their offerings. Worldwide demand for big shows is only growing, and there is strength – economic for some, emotional for others – in numbers. It’s difficult not to note the many flops and complications brought about by the humongous ambition of some, such as Primavera Sound, often leaving hundreds of thousands of attendees not elated but frustrated. 

In the light of so many notable gig makers insisting on grandeur above all else, which too often results in their visitors literally skidding in the mud, it’s all the better to remember that the festival experience need not be an exhausting drag, not even with 70,000 people in attendance. And who better than the Italians to showcase anything seemingly effortless but, in fact, highly slick and intense?

After a day of h̶e̶d̶o̶n̶i̶s̶t̶i̶c̶ masochistic overeating in a vain attempt not to miss out on any delicacies, we arrive at the green sometime around 6 PM, just in time for Primal Scream. There are already nearly 30,000 folks around, with thousands more flooding from the subway. Despite the sizeable crowd, everything is brisk, with several entry points and enough security staff. I rush in through the press entrance, only to find out that, for reasons unknown to me, I’m not on the guest list. While I stutter in shock, the ladies working the counter are warmly unphased by the misunderstanding. “It’s just a ticket,” says one of them as she smilingly hands me the press bracelet. Man, I love this country. 

Onstage, the Scottish veterans, who haven’t put out an album in seven years, perform as a 12-piece band, with the members of the House Gospel Choir on backing vocals. It’s a lovely, if too brief, show, as only nine songs are played over 45 minutes. Despite the band being out of the limelight for a while, it all comes together well. The countless middle-aged (and older) heads in attendance seem to remember Primal Scream from their ’90s glory, jamming along to “Deep Hit of Morning Sun”, “Suicide Bomb”, and “Country Girl”. The youngsters who likely don’t know the band still appreciate the fine display in front of them. 

Bobby Gillespie and his bunch are in top form, with the choir greatly elevating tunes such as the glorious “Movin On Up’” and “Loaded”. Unsurprisingly, there are no tracks from the vicious XTRMNTR (my favorite Primal Scream album), with only “Deep Hit of the Morning Sun” making the cut from the equally intense Evil Heat. Today is all about the good vibes, which is what the audience gives and receives in turn, the epic “Rocks” making for a classic closer, ensuring a delighted singalong. 

I take advantage of the 30-minute break to get something to drink. On my way to the bar, I am greeted by a sea of Red Hot Chili Peppers t-shirts, ranging from the basic knockoff band logo and name to the truly bizarre, such as a print of Anthony Kiedis’ mustached face with the lettering “Mr. Anthony, waiting for you”, on an imposing, mean-looking dude, no less. Perhaps the only weirder sight that afternoon is an oyster and caviar stand, in front of which dozens squeeze to grab a slurp or two. Like said, there’s no place like Italy.

Sometime after 7 PM, Deborah “Skin” Dyer, a recently appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire, steps in front of the 60,000+ strong headcount. In a typical goth bouncer gone jogging outfit, with matte black baggy trousers and vest atop sparkling white crew socks and kicks, she launches the screaming intro to “This Means War” over the band’s hard guitar intro. Interestingly, Skunk Anansie is another big ’90s band playing that day that hasn’t put a record out in seven years.

As with Primal Scream, this doesn’t matter. Skin’s divine, earth-shattering soprano is as clear and powerful as ever, the band’s chops still peerless in their rightfully forceful expression of (black) female rage. Misogyny, social injustice, faux Christian hypocrisy, as well as more mundane phenomena such as “dating someone who is an absolute piece of shit”, are all among the topics explored. Skin influenced generations, especially female musicians, and it shows, as audiences from all walks of life listen to Skin’s unique vocals as if in a trance. 

The 12-song set is a career-spanning delight, with ecstatic singalongs accompanying “Hedonism” and “Weak” interspersed with intense headbanging to “I Believed in You” and “Tear the Place Up”. What’s better, the newer stuff, such as “God Loves Only You” (a personal favorite) and “Piggy”, sounds as fresh and potent as their timeless singles off Stoosh and Post Orgasmic Chill. Skin, who welcomed her first child two years ago, took time off to focus on her family, which is commendable, but one can’t help but wish that Skunk Anansie put out more music. Even after all this time, their messages and sound remain outstanding, and this show is a great reminder that we don’t just need more and better feminism – we need more and better (hard) rock, too. 

Another quick break while the last of the 70,000-strong crowd squeeze their way in. The thousands on the barricades across the pit and the general admission area won’t budge, though. Four decades in, the Red Hot Chili Peppers still turn on whatever stadium or field they stumble upon. Considering their frequent touring with dozens of large-scale dates, it’s an utterly fascinating achievement. What’s always been more impressive, however, is the diversity of those who come to see them. 

Tonight, as on any other Red Hot Chili Peppers night, the audience age range is from about eight to 80. Hundreds of children, most of them prepubescent, wear the band’s emblems, as do thousands of seniors. An elderly man beside me has brought a foldable chair to sit on as he can’t stand for hours. Then there is everything in between, i.e., people of all genders, ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, races, and ethnicities. The women are represented by glamorous red-carpet-caliber dresses and stage makeup, as well as hippie sacks atop Converse All-stars. The men are even more eclectic: stoners, skaters, nerds, businessmen, rockers, and even goths. We all come together and rejoice with our favorite Californians. 

Why is it that Red Hot Chili Peppers remains the only outfit in the world to attract people of virtually all ages and from all layers of society? As Flea and John Frusciante playfully jam, slyly transitioning into the bombastic “Around the World”, Kiedis storms the stage wearing a foot brace boot (I do not know how he could run or jump wearing one) and spits the funk rap verses before bursting into the chorus: “I know, I know for sure, that life is beautiful around the world…”

Life, in fact, isn’t exactly amazing anywhere, but there goes your answer. In a (still) hyper-masculine and/or hyper-aggressive and nihilistic world of rock and metal, no male stars of the ’80s and ’90s were playful, carefree guys spreading messages of love while just fucking about, blending profound lyrics with gibberish atop layers of damn fine, radio-friendly funk rock. It is the love of life, the eternal optimism despite setbacks, helped by some of the finest bass and guitar lines and drum beats of all time, that keeps these four friends among the most beloved groups in history, as well as on top of music charts all these years. Red Hot Chili Pepper’s songs are, for the most part, songs of joy and hope, many of them world-class tunes, which is enough for generations to enjoy them. 

Banal as this love and peace cliché may seem, I’m happy to defend their deliberate naïvete and cheerful attitude. The millions who rush to see Red Hot Chili Peppers worldwide are living proof we need more of this. So much of rock, especially older bands whose fame persists to this day (e.g., Nirvana, Metallica, Pearl Jam), deals with rage and personal or social issues, just like so much of latter-day rock (e.g., the Strokes, Arctic Monkeys) deals predominantly with romantic relationships. No matter the subgenre, there’s little joy to be found along the tabs, and in our world of constant sensory aggravation, the negative emotions overwhelm and wear us out. In the long term, we are lucky to have Red Hot Chili Peppers to pull us up and invigorate us to face another day with a smile. 

As for the show itself, what more could be said about Chad Smith, Flea, John Frusciante, and Anthony Kiedis after all these years? Not much, except that they still put on an effortless-looking spectacle. Kiedis, sporting a white mesh shirt and Playboy bunny shorts, is in form with his voice and finally appears to be in command of his singing, making classics such as “Otherside” and “Californication” soar to the skies. Smith, Flea, and Frusciante remain three of the best living musicians on their respective instruments. It’s a delight to see Frusciante and Flea reunited after over a decade, now on their first tour together in 16 years. Seeing the two of them feed off each other across countless jams and sonic standoffs, virtuosity takes on an entirely new meaning.

And the setlist? It could hardly have been better. While multiple attendees informed me of their outrage, I was glad to see “Can’t Stop” and “Zephyr Song” scrapped in favor of 1999’s “Around the World” and “Scar Tissue”. They also played four out of the five best tunes off their latest two releases, 2022’s Unlimited Love and Return of the Dream Canteen (“Eddie”, a poignant tribute to the late Eddie Van Halen, was especially glorious, perhaps their best track in a decade). “Wet Send” was a bomb of emotion, and “I Like Dirt”, another forgotten gem from 1999’s Californication, was a wonderfully welcome surprise. 

There were some even more controversial choices, most notably substituting “I Could Have Lied” for “Under the Bridge”, disappointing many (not me, though). In fact, these changes mostly reminded us of just how enormous the Red Hot Chili Peppers catalog is; they could play for hours and not even deliver all their singles, let alone all of the dozens of beloved songs from their 13 releases. Sadly, tonight we only get 16 tunes across some 90 minutes, and “Give It Away” is the last of them. As the band, sweaty, with Kiedis and Flea topless, says goodbye with a smile, the masses are in total ecstasy. Ultimately, it didn’t matter what they played because they kept our spirits high. 

On my way out, the I-Days press team sees me and asks me if I had a good time. From the smiles around me, I’d say we all did and bid them goodbye. My only regret is that I didn’t stay for more shows over the weeks.