"What's so wrong with being happy?," Incubus' Brandon Boyd sang Saturday in the first of two-sold out shows at the Riviera.
The line serves as a synopsis of the Southern California quintet's approach to their not-so-harsh hard rock. Happiness has been in short supply in the metal ranks lately, but Incubus represents a mainstream alternative to bands such as Korn, Papa Roach and Staind, who in recent years have been alchemizing their pain into top-40 gold.
Though Incubus got a boost from its appearance two years ago on the Ozzfest tour the annual summer metal factory most responsible for launching the careers of bands such as Disturbed, Slipknot and Godsmack in recent years the quintet is not as easily pigeonholed as its peers.
Its fourth full-length release, "Morning View," recently debuted at No. 2 on the pop-album chart, and it's rife with lyrics that marvel at life rather than curse it. But though the band sings about transcendence, and designs big choruses as emotional payoffs, it's too much of a good thing. Even happiness gets tedious without some lows or some humor to balance it, and that psychic richness is missing in Incubus' otherwise well-intentioned music. Which prompts the question: Can seemingly nice, well-adjusted guys who apparently love their moms and dads make great art in a style of music noted for transgression and orneriness? The Riv concert provided no definitive answers.
Boyd and his bandmates looked more like Venice Beach surfer dudes than menacing metal avengers. Though guitarist Mike Einziger is steeped in the power chords of Led Zeppelin and Jane's Addiction, he also appreciates the more atmospheric side of both those bands, and his riffs often flirted with Eastern accents and psychedelic splashes of color.
DJ Kilmore blended sci-fi sound effects in between the chords on his turntables and a theremin. With Einziger, the deejay created abstract soundscapes that served as preludes to the anthemic choruses, Boyd leaning his head back and blasting his optimism into the rafters. But the singer, whose bare-chested sex appeal accounts for a female following far greater than the typical hard-rock band's, is the only aspect of Incubus' stage show that radiated any sort of charisma. Otherwise the band might have been Matchbox Twenty for all the by-the-numbers efficiency it brought to the performance.
Yet the music has a variety that eludes more formulaic top-40 bands. Incubus' latest single, "Wish You Were Here," played like a postcard to a distant lover. And each song read like a letter from a different musical time zone: the soft-loud dynamics of "Stellar" echoing any number of post-Nirvana anthems, the light-and-dark Zeppelin shadings of "Circles," the trip-hop atmospherics of Morcheeba on "Mexico" and an acoustic version of the hit "Drive," the lounge-jazz George Bensonisms of "Summer Romance (Anti-Gravity Love Song)." Boyd also pounded away on a hand drum and extracted drones from a didgeridoo, an Australian Aborigine wind instrument, to add world-music color to the already percolating stew of styles.
That ambition, combined with the spirituality in its message, makes Incubus a band worth rooting for.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times