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Live: Incubus at Hollywood Bowl

July 14, 2009 |  1:42 pm

The band gives L.A. fans a taste of all of its sounds: loud, soft, funky, spacey, inspired and not-so-much.


Some rock bands are of two minds (or more), struggling with competing impulses and uneven results, sometimes loud, soft, inspired or not. Incubus is like that, a cosmic jam band ready for either an endless funk-metal groove or a sudden eruption of melody and forward momentum.

When the pieces come together, Incubus is explosive and inspired, matching the melodic gifts of singer Brandon Boyd with the focused riffs and beats of the band. It's helped them build an impressive number of radio hits (collected on the just-released "Monuments and Melodies"), but also has fallen curiously short elsewhere.

At the band's 100-minute hometown performance at the Hollywood Bowl on Monday, fans heard all of it: the soaring pop hooks, the churning guitar of Mike Einziger, the stuttering DJ effects, the weakness for plodding funk and the growing distance between the band's best and least satisfying work. The new, two-disc best-of collection makes a strong enough case for the Incubus sound, gathering hits and rarities originally influenced by the heavy funk of Primus and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Initially aligned with the '90s "new metal" movement, Incubus was always less rage-fueled than peace-loving. Lyrics of inner struggle outnumbered any on anger management, far less about the nookie than the hippie dream. There were no grand mission social statements on the level of Pearl Jam, but at the Bowl, Boyd wore a T-shirt reading "Make believe, not war" as the images of street protests, riot police, mushroom clouds and a winged Adolf Hitler flashed behind him during a stirring "Megalomaniac."


Even within that single song, the band's competing musical impulses formed an uneasy balance, seeming to drift amid static and effects only to explode with immediate clarity through the shouted hooks of Boyd: "You're not Jesus / Yeah, you're no . . . Elvis / Special, as you know yourself, maniac / Step down!"

Incubus is dependent on those soaring vocals. Without them, the SoCal band can slip into swirls of sound without focus. That was evident in the night's opening song, a shapeless working of "Privilege," a song from 1999 that doesn't appear on the new retrospective, but got the concert to a sludgy, puzzling start. Soon, Incubus returned to its strengths, as the brooding, existential "Nice to Know You" rode along several satisfying vocal highs and lows, from a warm Daryl Hall-like croon to the roar of a vocal melody across some of Einziger's toughest riffs.

Midway through the set, the band gathered at the front of the Bowl stage for stripped-down versions of "Make Yourself" and "Dig," making a case for intimacy and a rejection of bright lights and showbiz, even if the cheers frequently overwhelmed the most delicate moments.

There were also the spacey, Pink Floyd-ish waves of sound on "Punch Drunk," the seething ballad "Love Hurts" and a faithful, excited take on Prince's "Let's Go Crazy." The cover tune didn't exactly reach the heights of the original, but still showed how well Incubus can handle a song of built-in forward motion.

Opening act the Duke Spirit was an intriguing contrast to the hippie vibe of Incubus, with fuzzy, chiming Boho rock 'n' noise in the tradition of the Velvet Underground and My Bloody Valentine. Singer Liela Moss was a vivid, sparkling presence behind the microphone at dusk, rasping and wailing across the British act's swirling guitars.

Drawing on the expanding range evident on the band's new album, "Neptune," the Duke Spirit thrived in a sound obsessed with the sultry and raw.

--Steve Appleford

Photo credit: Irfaan Khan / Los Angeles Times