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.
Panic! At The Disco w/ fun. & Funeral Party The Wiltern Los Angeles, CA June 21, 2011
The last time I saw Panic! At The Disco was nearly six years ago when it was still opening for Fall Out Boy, which fittingly also took place at the Wiltern. A lot has changed since then and, while I’ve heard mixed reactions to its live show since, I would bet the band has never sounded better than in its latest incarnation. Lead singer Brendon Urie, showing no ill effects from his recently busted ankle, was full of energy while turning in a widely encompassing vocal performance. Touring members Ian Crawford and Dallon Weekes have also become nice additions with solid musical chops, and their vocal harmonies with Urie proved a perfect complement.
As for the set list, the band heavily drew upon its freshest release, Vices & Virtues, with 8 of its 10 songs represented over the 90-minute set, although admittedly my favorite track, “Memories,” was absent. That favoritism is fine for me, as I would rank Vices as Panic!’s strongest outing, but I know others would disagree while also being disappointed by the lack of attention shown to Pretty. Odd.
Nevertheless, two of the night’s highlights weren’t from any of its studio albums. “C’mon,” a duet done with Nate Ruess and Andrew Dost of fun., was an infectious detour, and the band’s cover of the classic rock hit, “Carry On Wayward Son,” was right on the money, as evidenced by the clips making the rounds on YouTube. I’m not sure how many “pop-punk” bands could have pulled something like this off, but Panic! did it effortlessly, shredding as if it was a hard rock band and clearly enjoying the deviation. It seems that while the band has toned down its theatricality from years past, it has upped the focus on musicianship, and I think the results speak for themselves.
Serving as main support was fun., which turned in a 40-minute set of extravagant pop. I haven’t seen the group since Aim & Ignite was first released, so it was interesting seeing how it has grown as a band in the years since, lineup shuffles included. Nate still has a boundless stage presence and remains a reliable live singer, with the rest of the musicians now well oiled to accompany him. Two cuts from its upcoming album were also previewed, both of which sounded up to par if not as memorable as Aim & Ignite’s strongest cuts, although to be fair it’s hard to judge on only one listen. The only complaint I would offer is the synths added to two of the older songs, which skewed a little too close for my taste to the crappy dance punk that is all the rage these days.
Lastly, or firstly from a chronological standpoint, I arrived in the middle of opener Funeral Party’s set, a local band from the L.A. area that I wasn’t too familiar with. The band sounded all right, nothing hugely memorable but certainly not anything terrible, either. Think a less catchy version of Tokyo Police Club and you’re on the right track, although it was hard for them not to get overshadowed by the night’s two following acts.
Set List: Panic! At The Disco
Ready To Go (Get Me Out Of My Mind)
But It’s Better If You Do
The Ballad Of Mona Lisa
Lying Is The Most Fun A Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off
C’mon (Feat. fun.)
The Only Difference Between Martyrdom And Suicide Is Press Coverage
Let’s Kill Tonight
Nine In The Afternoon
The Green Gentlemen (Things Have Changed)
I Write Sins Not Tragedies
Carry On Wayward Son (Kansas cover)
Nearly Witches (Ever Since We Met…)
Set List: fun.
We Are Young (New Song)
Walking The Dog
All The Pretty Girls
All Alone (New Song)
At Least I’m Not As Sad (As I Used To Be)
Take Your Time (Coming Home)