October 11, 2011
3D Concert Photography and Stereoscopic Layout by Coldie
Words by Eric DePriester
Every era of alternative has its holdout, the lone survivor carrying the banner. Grunge has Pearl Jam, white funk has the Chili Peppers, ethereal arena rock has Radiohead, and nu alt metal has Incubus. Their longevity, like all lasting bands, is a blend of luck, talent, chemistry, and adaptability. It is the power to affect the individual, to create a meaningful link between artist and audience that follows a career of changeups and callbacks, a delicate play between catering to new market demands, maintaining an air of accessibility, and rocking the fuck out when called upon. Wielding a force all their own, Incubus has quietly become one of the biggest bands in the world.
In the late 90’s, aggbro rap rock was a scourge, a deviant plague consuming the airwaves. Though a necessary counter to the Mickey Mouse Club reunion on MTV, it was only the better of two evils. Even if they ran with the Korns and Bizkits of the world, Incubus always had something more- they had clarity and creativity. Instead of spitting out mindless adolescent rage over power chords and turntable screeches, Brandon Boyd stepped back from emotion for a moment, then screamed about it. He countered angst with positivity and his band balanced generic crunch with genre takeoffs and a knack for melody not shared by their peers. Of that juvenile mess, it was no surprise Incubus made top of the class.
From the ashes of the Family Values Tour, Incubus evolved and evened out. They grounded their sound in timeless rock touchstones, injecting their now signature spaced out emotion with 60’s and 70’s stoned blues and dashes of psychedelia and prog. With the comfort of the familiar, Incubus cleared space for the foreign, light organs and twangy guitars leading the odd digeridoo, ambient trip, and alien bleep. Picking up cues from the post alternative crowd like the global savants Coldplay, Incubus serve a sonic stew challenging enough to excite but intimate enough to understand.
True to their development, advanced age comes with new concerns. Boyd doesn’t rehash the same lyrical tropes, he reaches beyond, outside of his experience and this world. He is just as angry at the state of things, but he doesn’t stop at denial, he offers a way out. Still capable of a political whirlwind or old school breakdown, Boyd’s words have more hope, more sincerity, than earlier rages. Paired with his easygoing honesty, it takes no effort to get inside Boyd’s head and, once there, like what you find.
Part of the charm is that Boyd and the rest of the gang have nothing to hide. They are relaxed, regular guys, buddies from high school that made it the top and managed to stay there. After opening for Incubus, Young the Giant’s Francois Comtois was impressed “to see [that] a band who made their fortune in a time when big egos were almost as common as multi-million dollar advances could still be such mellow, humble people.” Lasting this long as a band is not unheard of. The impressive part is that they remained who they were, together.
Their trick is a direct line to our three dimensions: mind, body, and soul. The cerebral starts with pyschedelics and the knowledge that something greater than us exists, be it a higher power or alien life. The physical lives in their early thrash and repeated returns to the well of hard riffs and raw revolt, driving rhythm that produces subconscious sway and bang. Soul is covered in love ballads and spacey anthems, cycling through a punch to the existential gut, sigh of relief, and ease into contentment. By striking at the foundation of every individual, listeners feel Boyd’s message straight to the core of their being.
The best work, like “Stellar,” finds the intersection of all three. There is talk about exceeding earthly limits and grappling greater intelligence, then guitar crunch kicks in, a kneejerk rumble, driving home the repeated plea to feeling. Boyd sells it with impassioned vocals and lyrics just absurd enough to avoid literalization and the band lays down appropriate blips and blasts. There is confusion, despair, hope, release, and joy, the entire spectrum, anchored by their core slogan: “We are not alone.” Whether it is a new connection, shared faith amongst friends, romantic intrigue, or the arrival of an alien species, Boyd finds meaning in his personal relationships, in his community.
Incubus, at their best, thrive on unity, on bracing together and facing the unknown as one. Their music is intense, personal, and engaging, yet never too much so. They always leave breathing room, enough space for the audience to fill in the blanks. Through persistent positivity and careful evolution, Incubus is one of the only true arena rock bands left, discounting the dinosaurs trotting out hit collections, and they show no sign of slowing down. Somewhere desolate, Fred Durst sheds a tear and slugs back a brew, wondering what could have been.