Photo Credit: Allan Klimo
I’ve always thought Margaret Court Arena a slightly odd music venue. It has seen more heads going from side to side following a tennis ball, than up and down in time to a beat. It feels like a school gym where the kids are allowed on the basketball court for the year 8 dance and lacks the atmosphere of the Forum or even Festival Hall. So I feel that bands who play here really have got to “bring it” to get the crowd going.
The last time I saw Incubus at Soundwave 2015, I was so disappointed. Their stage set up meant that all of the band members were facing in to each other. It felt like they were playing for each other and themselves and not for the crowd and I felt really excluded from the performance. So it was with high hopes for a better experience that I took a seat at Margaret Court Arena last night.
The warm up act was Melbourne’s own Indie, punk, rock, electro enigma, Ecca Vandal. Genre defying is how she has been described, which is why I failed to really attach a satisfactory label to the style of music she offers. I felt a bit sorry for them as they were squeezed down the front of a stage, crowded with equipment draped in black cloth leaving not a lot of room for Ecca to strut in her red cut off shorts and jacket, but she did a good job earning the applause of the Incubus faithful who had arrived early. I’ve seen Ecca Vandal supporting before in a more intimate venue with some of her own fans present and she seems to attack the support role with energy and commitment that I admire. Accompanied by drums, bass and lead who both switched to keyboards and samples regularly, I was reminded of No Doubt and a young Gwen Stefani, a comparison I have since read in other reviews. Having released her debut album, in October 2017 full of catchy, energetic tracks and with a national headlining tour under her belt, I hope big things are ahead.
As the crowd grew and the queue for the bar got longer, I had a chance to observe who was out to see Incubus on the first night of their whirlwind 3 date Australian tour. Not as many man-buns as I expected, and a crowd leaning slightly to the female side, which I totally expected. At last the lights went off and the band appeared to the rapturous applause of the crowd. Lead singer, Brandon Boyd, wearing khaki shirt, black beret and baggy pants is rocking the long haired Jesus look these days. They opened with Glitterbomb from their latest album, 8 which saw Brandon join drummer Jose Pasillas adding to the beat on a large drum. They followed this up with Circles from the seminal “Morning View” of 2001 before back to the present with Nimble Bastard, the first single released from 8.
By this stage, it was clear that Brandon is a man of few words with nothing more than a “thanks” in between songs but that’s OK. The songs and their musicianship have always spoken more for this band, now celebrating 27 years in the industry, than their onstage performance. The 3 founding members, Boyd, Pasillas and guitarist Mike Einziger met in high school and with the addition of DJ Kilmore and Ben Kenney, they form a tight musical unit.
The number one hit, Megalomaniac warmed up the faithful and they sang back with enthusiasm. The extended intro to Pardon Me with Brandon adding to a wall of sound on the pedals and knobs of Einziger’s pedal board disguised the hit well but once the song emerged, a proper pit formed. I think this song particularly has all the signature elements that make Incubus special and unique. Melodic verses, bridging into heavier choruses that you can sing along to, layered with the turntable skills of Chris Kilmore and you have an Incubus song. There may be a formula, but their songs are far from formulaic.
I fully expected Nice to Know You to be their closing encore so was surprised when this song appeared from a very jazzy intro. Stellar got everyone singing and girls up on their boyfriend’s shoulders and the backdrop of the cosmos with solar flares and black holes on the big screen was a fitting accompaniment. A slap bass line led into a cover of INXS Need you Tonight. Boyd was definitely channeling his inner Hutchence, both vocally and in sex appeal (or maybe it was that by this time, the shirt had come off revealing his stunning mandala full back tattoo!). The floor looked like a Saturday night at the Metro in 1989 as a thousand people danced to the Aussie classic.
The last song of the main set was a slightly stripped back verse and chorus of Wish You Were Here. But by the time the 2nd chorus kicked in, they had reverted to the full on version and crowd sang it back with passion. The end of this song segued into the Pink Floyd classic Wish You Were Here and they left the stage to rapturous applause.
The encore began with No Fun, the opening track of 8, followed by a piano and voice verse of Drive, with the chorus supplied by the crowd before continuing with the album version. Warning seemed a fairly soft track to finish on, I thought, but it seemed to please everyone well enough and as they lined up for the obligatory bow, the applause was appreciative and heartfelt.
Incubus have always struck me as bit of an “artsy fartsy” band, particularly with Brandon Boyd dabbling in fine art and writing in between musical projects these days. They also appear as a microcosm of America with such a diverse ethnicity among its, members. Does that relate to Australian audiences? From the reaction of the crowd on Friday, yes it does. Did they “bring it”? Hell yes. Although they seem to focus more on the music and less on the performance than some other acts do, it was a tight and entertaining show and I really enjoyed seeing the passion of the fans who clearly adore them and sang their little hearts out.
Review Contributed by Wendy Smith