"What's happening, hometown?" Anthony Kiedis asked the crowd Tuesday night at Staples Center. Then the Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman turned to his bandmate Flea with another question: "Where you sleeping tonight?"
"My house!" the bassist replied, and he couldn't have sounded happier about it.
Musicians on tour — as the Los Angeles-based Chili Peppers are, behind last year's "The Getaway" album —often relish the chance to return home, even if it's only for a night or two before they hit the road again.
But Flea's exuberance went beyond the prospect of seeing his own bed. He was super-psyched to be performing for the city he said he loves more than any other — the place whose diversity makes him "so proud," as he put it, after rattling off a list of far-flung communities that proved his point.
You knew when he got to Pacoima that he wasn't kidding around.
If Flea and his bandmates were expressing their devotion to L.A. on Tuesday, L.A. hardly left them hanging: This was the first of three sold-out concerts at the big downtown arena, a remarkable play for a veteran group that hasn't had a real pop hit in years.
What's more, the room was nearly full an hour before the Chili Peppers were due onstage. You figure that the band's opening act, Trombone Shorty, signed on to the gig without knowing how rock fans would react to his New Orleans jazz — or if they'd show up to hear him at all.
But these folks gave him a hero's welcome, as though the Chili Peppers' endorsement had made him an instant star. That enthusiasm only intensified when Flea, guitarist Josh Klinghoffer and drummer Chad Smith finally appeared — and launched immediately into a long, knotty instrumental jam.
For any other band, the choice might have met with thousands of rolled eyes. But not this one, or at least not here.
The Chili Peppers understand how fortunate they are to have maintained such a loyal following at a moment when rock no longer holds a great deal of sway in the wider cultural conversation.
"We're lucky to have you," Kiedis told the crowd at Staples, a statement with as much accuracy as class.
But they also know that loyalty is something to use, not merely something to protect.
So rather than coast through a set of their greatest hits, the band dug surprisingly deep into "The Getaway," which failed to leave a commercial mark but which the Chili Peppers clearly still believe in.
As they should. On Tuesday "Dark Necessities" was throbbing and insistent, while "Goodbye Angels," about the end of a relationship, built to an emotional climax that showed Kiedis can do more than bellow or bark when he wants to.
The record's title track rode a taut but trippy disco groove, one result of the group's collaboration with producer Danger Mouse, who helped shape "The Getaway" after a string of albums the Chili Peppers recorded with Rick Rubin.
The band didn't ignore its older material, of course. But even here it was emphasizing the recent past over ancient history with more songs from its last few discs — tunes like "Dani California" and "The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie" — than from "Blood Sugar Sex Magik," the 1991 blockbuster that made the Chili Peppers one of the biggest acts in alternative rock.
And when the group did reach back for "Give It Away" and "Suck My Kiss," it sounded far less alert than it did in the newer stuff; the music was thick and sluggish, rubbed free of energy and detail.
The argument the show seemed to be making was that where you come from is more important than when you come from — that you can't experience an older version of a band any more than you can walk through an older version of a city.
"After this, we're going to get burritos" at a spot near Hollywood and Vermont, Flea said as the Chili Peppers neared the end of the concert. "If anyone wants to meet me."