Incubus Incubus HQ Live Los Angeles, CA July 6, 2011
Incubus’ sixth major label album, If Not Now, When?, is already shaping up to be the band’s most polarizing effort, and it hasn’t even officially been released yet. It is that album the band chose to play front-to-back to close out its weeklong Incubus HQ Live, a special web streaming event that saw the band interacting with both fans and press in a variety of creative ways. The shindig took place in a converted storefront in the middle of Los Angeles, where a makeshift practice space was assembled amid pieces of artwork and a reggae soundtrack. Each day closed with an impromptu performance, whether jam sessions from the band’s deep catalogue or run-throughs of well-loved albums Morning View and Make Yourself.
Which brings us to the present and aforementioned album, If Not Now, When? The group has always prided itself in how each album is its own entity with its own unique sound, and that is certainly true here on its boldest departure yet. Gone are the crunchy guitars and monster choruses that have made Incubus a modern rock staple for the last decade plus. In their place is a mellower and more delicate sound, relying less on guitars and hooks and more on space and tone. Lead singer Brandon Boyd referred to it as a headphone album at one point during the show, and he is right on the money.
It should come as no surprise, then, the album is a grower and needs time to digest. The record leaked three months ago, terrible news for Incubus, but at least it means I’ve had ample time to personally soak it in. I remember mixed reactions upon first listen but have definitely come to appreciate it more and more, and there’s no question it has more spark in a live setting. Mike Einzinger, the band’s not-so-secret weapon, had his guitars somewhat muted on the record. Live, however, they are much more pronounced and he is given more room to operate, which obviously plays to his strengths. The entire band, in fact, has always excelled in a live setting, where its high-grade musicianship and Boyd’s unparalleled voice truly shine, so it only makes sense the album sounds stronger as a result.
If Not Now, When’s liveliest moments, such as the second half of “In the Company of Wolves,” the bass funky “Switch Blade” and lead single “Adolescents,” should fit right at home in a greatest hits set list and are sure to become live favorites. Other tracks I’ve come to love, like “The Original” and “Isadore,” were in fine form as well, and you’d never guess that a handful of songs were making their live debut. Nevertheless, the two lackluster songs on the record, “Friends and Lovers” and “Tomorrow’s Food,” come across better live but still amount to little more than filler, especially when compared to what the quintet is capable of.
Throughout the evening the band was clearly loose and relaxed, constantly joking around while being surrounded by family, friends and even a dog, and being mere feet from the performance was an experience in and of itself. To those who thought If Not Now, When? was a boring record, give it another chance, especially if you have the opportunity to see the songs live. While it might be the band’s weakest record to date, it is far from a bad one and worth seeking out for its own merits.
Check out my interview with Incubus over at Mammoth Press. DJ/keyboardist Chris Kilmore takes a look back while discussing the retrospective Monuments & Melodies, their creative process and what's next in store for the band.
For the better part of the past decade, Incubus has been one of the forefront bands in mainstream rock. Since 1999’s Make Yourself, they have gone on to sell over 7 million records, spawning several huge radio singles in the process. On tour in support of last year’s Light Grenades, their sixth album, they brought their powerful live show to the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Irvine last Friday.
Before the main event, The Bravery had the job of getting things started and, for the most part, the New York quintet performed well. The band began with the energetic duo of “Fearless” and “Believe,” kicking things off on a high note. However, the rest of their 11-song, 45-minute set wasn’t without its share of ups and downs.
Splitting their songs almost evenly between their self-titled debut and this year’s The Sun And The Moon, the band was at its best with the latter and failed to impress during the former. Outside of the opener and the hit “An Honest Mistake,” the older material tended to mesh together and skewer towards a generic styling of similar sounding bands. The newer material, such as “Time Won’t Let Me Go” and “Every Word Is A Knife In My Ear,” fared much better, showing an improved musicianship and songwriting ability while employing a fuller rock sound.
Performance-wise, guitarist Michael Zakarin threw in a couple nice solos, and lead singer Sam Endicott’s voice translated fairly well live, although he did struggle a bit on some of the higher notes. He also needs to learn to keep a guitar in his hands at all times because on the few songs without one, he flailed about with the mike stand in tow, demonstrating an awkward stage presence. Overall, the band’s show was solid if unspectacular, merely providing a glimpse at their future potential.
In front of a roaring, sold-out crowd, Incubus opened with the subdued “Quicksand” before blasting into the rocking trio of “A Kiss To Send Us Off,” “Nice To Know You” and “Anna Molly.” The remainder of the hour and forty-five minutes consisted of an eclectic 18-song set list, which should have come as no surprise to fans of the band.
While hits like “Stellar,” “Drive,” “Megalomaniac,” “Dig,” and their latest “Oil And Water” were scattered throughout, the band also went deep into their catalogue with songs “Nowhere Fast,” “Circles,” “Pistola,” “Here In My Room,” a b-side to Light Grenades entitled “Punch-Drunk,” a cover of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” and even dusted off oldie “Summer Romance (Anti-Gravity Love Song).” Noticeably missing were classics “Pardon Me” and “Wish You Were Here,” as well as others like “Warning” and “Talk Shows On Mute,” but these omissions proved to be the set’s only disappointments.
The Calabasas five-piece is an undeniably gifted group of musicians, and that talent was on full display over the course of the night. Lead singer Brandon Boyd has arguably the purest voice in rock music today, and his vocals were pitch perfect the entire time. Guitarist Mike Einziger demonstrated his amazing creativity with several impressive solos, and the band wasn’t afraid to break out into some improvised jam sessions as well. This was no more apparent than during their striking rendition of “Sick Sad Little World,” which featured remarkable drum, bass, and guitar solos, one right after another.
With no pyrotechnics or fancy light show sharing the spotlight, Incubus let their music stand for itself. After being together for over 15 years, it is rare to see a band like this continually push themselves musically while at the same time maintaining a high level of quality. Therefore it was only fitting they chose to close with the Asian-tinged “Aqueous Transmission,” complete with Einziger playing the Japanese instrument pipa, going out in their own unique style. As Friday’s night performance indicated, this is a band clearly in their prime.