Through the years, I have been quite vocal about my admiration for Incubus and, despite my left-field tendencies and preferences, I have been able to enjoy the music of these well-dressed Californians for many years. Musically and lyrically the band has shown an impressive growth in a better and more mature direction and I invariably enjoy their most recent albums more than older releases.
As this show approached its date, fellow humans who share my interest in Incubus were shocked to hear that I had little interest in buying a ticket and attending the show. Why? Let’s rewind a little bit. Back in ‘96, when I was a fresh faced exchange student in Germany, I went to see Korn at the top of their game in Berlin, supporting their most recent release at the time, Life Is Peachy. Needless to say, Korn rocked my world ‘cause back then, they were young, horny and out for the kill. Incubus were one of the opening bands for that show, sent by their label, Epic, to promote their upcoming release. Epic had people hand out a two-song promo tape featuring music of their first major breakthrough album, S.C.I.E.N.C.E.
They played well, they had a musical edge and a front man with an amazing voice but they didn’t kill it. Fast forward to the present. I have since then watched Incubus DVDs as well as live performances on the internet, which has done little to change my perception. It was with some resentment that I went to this show, steadfast in my belief that Incubus did not have much to offer in the live environment, let alone playing a huge arena rock show in front of few thousand Icelandic teenagers. But I had an assignment, which is what you are reading right now.
Walking to Iceland’s most legendary sports arena, Laugardalshöllin, I got a sneaking suspicion that this show would be a little indifferent, but – being the optimist I am and in the company of a friend who maintained that Incubus’ professionalism would offer me something more than the other types of shows I frequent – I kind of started going with the flow.
As we entered the building Mínus had just started their acclaimed sweat rock thunder. Working my way through the crowd I couldn’t help but think that 80% of the attendance that night was people under 20 years old, with the majority probably under 18. They projected the swagger of young minds under the influence, in a big house party, all dressed up and far from soft spoken after a couple of rounds of beers and vodka mixes.
Mínus are no strangers to larger than life rock shows. These ambassadors of Icelandic hard rock are irrefutably the first choice for major concert promoters when it comes to events this size. These rockers opened when Metallica filled a giant sports hall to its 18,000 heads capacity, so working up a restless crowd has never been a problem for these lads.
Mínus played long awaited songs from their yet to be released full length album, which kept me on my toes since playing mostly hits of the wildly successful Halldór Laxness would have been a little too safe. The new material sounded heavier and more precise than the horny-party-rock music from their last album, although the poor sound in Laugardalshöll kept them from delivering it properly. Still, the crowd was having it, but for some reason, Mínus was not. Drummer Bjössi was obviously on top of his game, bringing his beats with uncanny precision. The term “into it” is an understatement when it comes to this wielder of sticks. Bass thug Þröstur dwarfed his instrument and threatened to strike thunder on the youngsters in the front but the rest of the band seemed uninterested. Even Krummi, the smooth talking but persuasive trickster of a front man seemed to hold back.
Incubus have never been more interesting musically than they are these days, but live on stage these clean cut fellows seem uninspired and businesslike. Yes, they can play and they are tighter than the anus of a young honey bee, but with a front man that comes off as being rather shy, while the rest of the band has little or no presence – aside from the bass player who pulled his weight but to no avail – Incubus was unmemorable. In short, Incubus added little to my at-home listening experience.
Brandon Boyd’s vocal performance that night was something to write home about though. It’s as if his throat has a built-in auto-tune. My friend and I waited for him to choke on a note but it was just like it had been lifted from one of their studio recordings… I shit you not. Incredible singer with perfect control over his voice. That being said, this eye candy of a singer is not quite the communicator between songs. Of the few words he actually spoke, most of what he said was rather clumsy and did little to contradict my theory that Mr. Boyd is indeed shy and a little reserved.
To Incubus’s credit they played a lot of material from their bold yet solid latest record, Light Grenades, and as if to underline their passion for that record, they left out obvious super smash hits like Stellar and Pardon Me and instead included a jam session as well as alternative versions of another old hit, Redifine.
The crowd was receptive and warm throughout their set but never in the palm of Incubus’s hand.
My earlier suspicion had proved to be spot on. The whole thing was indifferent, even bland, and judging from the shockingly silent punters (who normally raise their voices and even scream to express their stokedness after seeing their beloved bands) streaming out of the venue and into the parking lot, many of them were probably surprised to feel the same way I did.