INDIO -- “I feel like I’m in ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ ” Anthony Kiedis said Sunday night, not long after Red Hot Chili Peppers had taken the main stage at Coachella for the final headlining performance of the three-day festival. Kiedis was referring to the dust storm that blew up Sunday afternoon and quickly turned the Empire Polo Club into a wind-swept sandbox. But the frontman might also have felt like Lawrence because he was standing before a crowd the size of an army, easily the biggest any one act played to at Coachella.
So what did Kiedis and his bandmates do to mark the moment? They played what amounted to an ordinary gig.
Many observers (including Pop & Hiss) groaned when the Chili Peppers were revealed to be on the lineup for this year’s show. For one thing, they’d already played Coachella twice, most recently in 2007. More to the point, though, the inclusion of this veteran L.A. band -- which just last summer played two concerts at Staples Center -- simply didn’t provide the frisson for which Coachella is known. It felt too obvious.
Or too desperate: In January, Rolling Stone magazine reported that the festival signed the group “about an hour” before it announced the bill, perhaps as a result of its inability to seal a long-rumored deal with the Rolling Stones. (The Chili Peppers played a few bars of the Stones’ “Beast of Burden” Sunday. Make of that what you will.)
And so it went for the performance itself, which featured competent versions of hits like “Give It Away” and “By the Way,” as well as a handful of tunes from 2011’s solid “I’m With You.” There were highlights, including the soulful “Look Around” and the band’s indelible version of “Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder, both of which demonstrated the muscular precision of Flea and Chad Smith’s rhythm section. There were low-lights, too: Kiedis’ singing in “Under the Bridge” was all over the place, as were his and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer’s shaky vocal harmonies.
Yet low-lights can tell you something about a band. What was more troubling about the Chili Peppers’ set -- which maintained a huge audience until the end, even as the dust began to approach “Mad Max” levels -- was how thoroughly unremarkable it felt, right down to Flea’s bare chest and Kiedis’ omnipresent Off! cap.
“This life is more than just a read-through,” the frontman sang in “Can’t Stop,” but this show wasn’t.
Follow Mikael Wood on Twitter: @mikaelwood