Birmingham NEC, 24th September 2007
What with driving to Birmingham; viewing the ludicrously overpriced merchandise and marvelling at the fact that bar staff were actually polite (a notion that doesn’t seem to have caught on in London), we missed all but the last two songs of Puggy.
Whilst their enthusiasm and unfaltering energy on stage is to be commended, they simply don’t quite have the musical acumen to pull it off – especially not in an arena setting. With the exception of a few catchy hooks here and there which I found myself toe-tapping along to, they were mediocre at best.
It is only when the lights come up after Puggy’s departure that I’m able to have a decent look at the crowd. Everybody seems to be a twenty-something. There are married couples, expectant mothers and men in suits who have clearly come straight from work. This only surprises me until I realise that I too have aged and I’m no longer a spotty teenager clutching my copy of “Make Yourself” dearly to my chest. This epiphany illustrates (to me at least) how far Incubus have come. After a 16 year career, their core fan-base still appear to be loyal – I can’t think of many other reasons why a heavily pregnant woman would stand for almost 3 hours at the NEC, and come out on a rainy Monday night in late September.
The lights proceed to dim and the almost ethereal opening bars of “Quicksand” greet the eager ears of the thousands of people at the NEC. Brandon Boyd further mystifies as the vocals kick in. His voice, which is sometimes below par in larger venues, is tonight on top form. The five-piece then blast through “Kiss to Send Us Off” and Morning View’s “Wish You Were Here”. It is at this point that the band have the crowd entirely in the palms of their hands, with the final bridge sang back to them, pitch-perfect, and without the aid of Boyd… It seems these twenty-somethings really have gone back to being teenagers again.
“Anna Molly” and “Pistola” are then played to absolute perfection as a reward, and “Blood on the Ground” only continues to please. After a few moments of darkness and silence, a distinctly funky bass line begins and Einziger dons a semi-acoustic guitar. Yells of “Drive!! Drive!!” emerge from the crowd, but there appears to be an air of disappointment when an unfamiliar intro begins. It is only about 12 bars into the song that there is the realization that they are in fact playing “Redefine”; the S.C.I.E.N.C.E. belter, in acoustic format. Whilst I prefer the punishing electric sound that is provided on record, the musicianship being viewed is utterly outstanding, and they seem to be simply showcasing the talent which they all posses in vast quantities.
“Here in my Room”, a lesser-known, slower and contemplative track from 2004’s ‘A Crow Left of The Murder’ is next up, and then the audience are compensated for their patience, and “Drive” makes an appearance, although not in quite the same cut down acoustic form as many would have clearly preferred.
The sound then changes dramatically, and “Megalomaniac” followed by “Sick Sad Little World” are performed with passion and aggression, complete with a highly impressive drum breakdown at the end. “Oil and Water” and fan favourite “Nice To Know You” are played in the same manner, and the band leaves the stage.
The thousands of people in the NEC eagerly await the band’s return with the hope that they might get to hear some classic material. This fragile hope is dashed, when they are greeted with “Beware! Criminal” and “Aqueous Transmission” – the very chilled and almost Indian-sounding final track from 2001’s ‘Morning View’.
The band leave the stage, and I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. Whilst they performed to absolute perfection in a musical sense, their set list was dominated by tracks from their last two studio albums – ‘Light Grenades’ (2006) and ‘A Crow Left Of The Murder’ (2004). Crowd interaction was also minimal – something that they have been criticized for in the past.
As a friend said on the way out, “If I’d picked their set-list, that would have been the best show I’d ever been to…”, and I can’t help but agree with him. Incubus appear to have abandoned the music that, judging by the average age of the crowd here tonight, gained them their fan base. Whilst they are undoubtedly immensely talented, the crowds aren’t going to linger for much longer if they’re not going to hear the songs that helped them achieve the almost heroic status to which they were initially greeted with 2 hours previously – especially the ladies who only caught a glimpse of Brandon Boyd’s torso for a mere 30 seconds during the encore!
A fabulous showcase of immense musical talent, but not the best set-list they could have come up with.