When Incubus first hit the big time in the late ‘90s, the rock band featuring a DJ and dreadlocked guitarist were unsurprisingly lumped in with all the other rock bands featuring a DJ and dreadlocked guitarist.
But the five-piece from Calabasas, California had little else in common with the likes of Korn and Limp Bizkit. Yes, Brandon Boyd could certainly turn on the rap-sing vocal style nu-metal had copped from Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis. Mike Einzinger knew his way around the genre’s messy guitar riffs. And there’s nothing more era-defining than the record scratching all over Nice To Know You.
Yet, Boyd could actually sing (just listen to his smooth croon on Talk Shows On Mute, the sensitive emotional outpouring of Black Heart Inertia, or the vocal that soars above the murky Oil And Water). Their breakout album, 1999’s Make Yourself, was produced by the guy who’d done R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People and Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged In New York, pointing to a band already looking beyond the genre’s confines.
That musical ambition and open-mindedness has remained. When promoting 2006’s Light Grenades, Einzinger told MTV that the LP “sounds like 13 different bands playing 13 different songs”. Their latest release, last year’s 8, was co-produced by Skrillex. And you’d never find the guitarist from Crazy Town (remember Butterfly?) co-writing and playing on a global hit by Avicii (how could you forget Wake Me Up?).
That willingness to keep exploring is equally apparent at the first of their two Brixton Academy shows. Punchy set opener Privilege not only has Boyd pounding on a djembe, the ragged rocker unexpectedly breaks into Panjabi MC‘s bhangra hit Mundian to Bach Ke during the bridge.
Are You In?, which floats upon echoing, ethereal instrumentation, ends with the chorus of Snoop Dogg’s Gin And Juice, while an equally blissed-out Wish You Were Here briefly breezes into the Pink Floyd classic of the same name. There’s even time for a lithe, but unlikely, rendition of INXS ’80s staple Need You Tonight.
Of course the band’s own songs are equally far-reaching. The sprawling Calgone, the oldest track in the set, jumps breathlessly between space-rock ambience and a sonic assault of such intensity that bass player Ben Kenney and drummer Jose Pasillas could well be auditioning for Rage Against The Machine.
The elegiac Here In My Room, with Boyd singing his heart out as Einzinger slides between keyboards and chiming guitar, is unadulterated heartache. A nimble Megalomaniac is all about the turns from tearing-at-the-sky choruses to subdued, introspective verses.
The brooding Glitterbomb, one of three from the current album, shows they still know their way around extremes in volume and intensity. And the night’s last two songs couldn’t be more different: a paired-back-to-keyboard rendition of biggest hit Drive cruises, A Crow Left Of The Murder thunders.
Yet, Incubus perfectly manage the shifts in mood, having sequenced the show with such precision that they frequently move from one song to the next without a second of silence. That attention to detail extends to the musical performances themselves, to such an extent that, despite the musicians’ individual talents, nobody’s here to pull focus from the actual songs.
So, no self-indulgent solos, no extended chat (“Thank you” and “Hello, Brixton” just about cover it). Even when a technical hitch renders Einzinger’s pedalboard useless for a few minutes while a pedal is swapped out, Boyd vocalises over a spontaneous instrumental begun by Pasillas instead of addressing the crowd.
Not that anybody inside an elbow-room-only Brixton Academy seems to mind (or care). They’re beyond thrilled to see the frontman pull off rock star moves (the one-leg-on-the-monitor stance, the microphone-raised-above-head gesture), inevitably taking off his shirt, and most importantly lead Incubus through one invigorating performance after another.
Review of Incubus at Brixton Academy on 6th September 2018 by Nils van der Linden. Photography by Kalpesh Patel.