Incubus at Alexandra Palace - review
'Ally Pally perfectly frames their past glories'
Chris Swindells - 09 November 2011
At birth a newborn baby screams, an infant shouts, a teenager whines and soon enough the grown adult is silent, treading
water in a state of passive acceptance. The life cycle for Incubus
Since their breakthrough 1997 full length ‘S.C.I.E.N.C.E.’ the wheels have steadily slowed and, with age, the group have reconsidered the art of song-writing, lead guitarist Einzenger even enrolling at Harvard to study the science. It’s been a decade of stifled progress, learning to redirect energies at more traditional rock structures, with frustratingly erratic results.
This stifled style has now permeated the live show, and whilst many under the grand ceiling of Alexandra Palace share no such fears it sometimes feels like the band are about to hang up the creative coat for the final time. Their fifth ‘If Not Now, When?’ was five years in the wait and worth very little of that, sadly tonight it makes up much of the set-list and the elevator music pace has its fingers all over the show’s design.
The Californian surfer-rock approach has given Incubus a way that has never really belonged anywhere else. Whether it was with the label and tour mates Korn in the late nineties or the Strokes-led indie revolution of the noughties, their out of time style has inspired a cult-like following. In the Palace old lyrics about life at 23 ring true with a new apropos, and starter ‘Privilege’ is as welcome as any opening beat has been.
‘Vitamin’ and ‘Pardon Me’ both merit grand responses from this grand hall, but the band hardly seem to try elicit them, rather playing out a solemn, at times tedious battle with becoming forefront mavens of music. The newer material, like lead single ‘Promises Promises’ has deconstructed their traditional sound, and rebuilt, more spacious and melody-led than ever before. Sometimes though this more scientific approach to song-writing simply skips the essence of a band, their energy and spirit lost.
Not to try and give the sense that head-banging was ever the sole Incubus pastime, fans tonight, maybe like their stage heroes weary of their aching backs are happy to stand and not jump, or actively participate. Ally Pally seeming the stately home for the retiring gent and lady of musical leisure. Past glories are perfectly framed, as ‘Drive’ demonstrates, their only near crossover ‘hit’, it remains a perfect example of the band, if you excuse the pun, cruising ahead in fifth gear.
It’s not all musical doom-mongering elsewhere, ‘Dig’ has a reworking that actually improves on the original and a new acoustic interlude begs the question why this hasn’t been a feature for the past decade.
Brandon Boyd, now 35, still finds time for the obligatory shirt removal, a move so engrained in Incubus set procedure you feel many here would be in riot mood demanding refunds if he hadn’t pulled that one off. ‘The Warmth’ follows and serves as a lasting reminder why this band still sell out Palaces when they’ve never troubled the top twenty UK charts.
Leaving at an early point, it’s a disappointingly lacklustre goodbye, on another misplaced new one, ‘Tomorrow’s Food’. Overflowing like a recycling bin full of clichéd lyrics, put to a video montage of everything from mushroom clouds to Ganhdi, together they churn the stomach ad nauseum.
Listing the missing songs tonight would be easy: ‘Make Yourself’, ‘Stellar’, ‘Nice To Know You’ and ‘Umbrella’ all go A.W.O.L. yet most absent of all remains the youthful passion and musical daring Incubus once commanded. If Boyd and cohorts can take anything forward they should remember it’s never too late to re-make yourself.