Hammersmith Apollo, London – 16th June 2015
In a dusty, forgotten attic somewhere there must a hang a portrait of Brandon Boyd that looks shockingly decayed, for the Incubus front man seems supernaturally impervious to the slow ravages of time. Ahead of the band launching into up-tempo stomper Sick Sad Little World, the seemingly ageless Boyd peels off his shirt and as if on cue a wave of camera phones promptly emerge above the sea of flailing limbs. Even at the age of 39,the former nu-metal pin up boy still cuts a dashing figure and this is a time honoured tradition that never fails to push the temperature of an already steamy crowd noticeably higher, with girls swooning and straining for a better view. However, behind the sculpted, sun-kissed singer there has always been a group tirelessly pumping out restlessly diverse post-grunge anthems that have never quite settled on a specific genre. Asked recently if his band was still “culturally relevant”, Boyd replied simply “I don’t know, but let’s try anyway”, and that’s certainly the impression you get tonight as they throw themselves around with the same reckless abandon as the carefree group of teenagers who first graced a stage together some 24 years ago.
An eclectic crowd assembled from up and down the country have faithfully made the trek down to Hammersmith’s legendary Apollo Theatre like some holy pilgrimage to see the lost sons of a possibly bygone era of alternative rock music. With increasingly lengthy gaps between new releases, opportunities to see the perennially youthful five piece perform in the UK have been few and far between in recent times and for many this return has clearly been a long time coming.
In a shameless but entirely effective ploy to further ratchet up anticipation ahead of the quintet’s emergence on stage, a huge digital countdown, starting from five minutes, is displayed on the screen behind the drum riser. The final 10 seconds prompts a mass chanting of numbers from the crowd, before the lights drop and shadowy figures drift to the fore. Debate is rife among the gathered masses as wagers on opening songs are hurled back and forth – will the band open with a punchy fan favourite or ambling slow burner?
They do not disappoint.
The immediately identifiable guitar jangle of 2001 pop smash Wish You Were Here has the audience in throes of delirious exhilaration, with Boyd’s timeless opening lyric “I dig my toes into the sand” being thrown back at him before the words have even finished leaving his lips. A similarly vocal response to perpetual crowd pleaser Pardon Me sees the audience overtake the band – as they opt for a slowed down revision – flawlessly reciting the song’s first verse, to a wry smile and approving nod from the obviously impressed lead singer, who leaves them to it.
The set proves to be as well honed and musically agile as the band themselves. Songs from their new high octane EP Trust Fall Side A slot comfortably into the line up tonight, nestled in seamlessly among the plethora of the band’s greatest hits as though they too are old classics being revisited. In a nod to their more distant past the head-banging Vitamin is unearthed, which sees Boyd take up his part time position astride a djembe drum, tapping out frenetic rhythms in time to the ceaselessly energetic percussion of Jose Pasillas. There are pleasing appearances from other lesser spotted cult favourites, including Agoraphobia which, moments prior to performing, Boyd publicly confesses has not been played live “in a very long time”. The mass sing along that ensues surely justifies the dusting off of this long-shelved collector’s item.
Whether it’s the barnstorming rock of Anna Molly or the debauched after-party classic Are You In?, bassist Ben Kenney throws himself gracefully around his quadrant of the stage, an almost permanent smile plastered across his face as he churns out funky bass riffs and understated backing vocals. His energetic performance provides the perfect foil for the more considered stage presence of guitarist Mike Einziger, who appears absorbed in his own world on the opposite side of the stage, whipping up sonic alchemy as he effortlessly shifts gears between belting riffs, jangly chord progressions and wailing solos, occasionally hopping on keyboards just for good measure.
The jazzy, psychedelic odyssey Company of Wolves, one of the few survivors from the ambivalently received If Not Now, When?, gets an outing, anchoring the evening’s musical journey mid-set with trippy, expansive synths and Boyd’s hauntingly subdued, half-whispered incantations. But it’s not until the second half of this musical voyage when they unleash Nice To Know You, the titanic opening track from their multi platinum-selling 2001 album Morning View, that the first identifiable moshpit emerges among the die hard fans, front and centre.
The gear shift from the audience is reflected in the band’s playing as they continue to crank up the intensity; by the time Einziger launches into the crunching opening attack of Dance Like You’re Dumb the atmosphere is more akin to a summer festival than a 90 minute show in West London, as the wild gyrations of both band and audience became ever more uncontrolled. With girls taking to the shoulders of taller companions and plastic beer cups making airborne journeys across the crowd the only thing missing are ten foot high fishing poles and stage-obscuringly large flags.
Emphatic set closer Megalomaniac works in a snippet of Nirvana’s legendary grunge anthem Come As You Are before the tried and tested three song encore is deftly employed; the band’s 1999 breakthrough chart topper Drive is performed with a gritty intensity that gives it an extra edge this evening, as Einziger slams through a simple but meaty guitar solo.
When the curtain finally comes down with A Crow Left of the Murder – the song that, according to the band, infamously brought about Einziger’s crippling carpal tunnel syndrome that led to them cancelling a string of Light Grenades tour dates while he undertook intensive rehab – the much anticipated return of Calabasas’ favourite musical sons is well and truly complete, the audience perfectly satiated following a quirky outro in the form of The Beatles’ She’s So Heavy.
Occasional physical setbacks now firmly behind them, Incubus show once again that they are a band that continues to defy the conventions of ageing that seem to apply only to lesser mortals. With fresh material continuing to pepper their ever expanding back catalogue, the group’s steadfast disciples will hope the wait may not be so long before the cult icons from Calabasas return to the stage, their own altar of reverent alt-rock worship.
Wish You Were Here
Are You In?
In the Company of Wolves
A Kiss To Send Us Off
Nice to Know You
Here In My Room
Sick Sad Little World
Dance Like You’re Dumb
A Crow Left of the Murder
Words: Henry Wickham