Hard rock isn't all about bad news. Incubus somehow manages to seek personal enlightenment inside a heavy groove without ever going soft. Songs of bitter self-loathing never quite seem necessary.
If that puts this Calabasas-based group in a different category from much of the "nu metal" crowd, it also helps explain the euphoric greeting from fans at the Universal Amphitheatre on Saturday, the first of two sold-out dates at the venue.
From its first moments, the two-hour performance assumed the presence of a big arena rock show, with mostly young fans spontaneously singing along and raising their lighters.
The show was uncomplicated and direct, virtually without any show-biz flash, as if the quintet had rolled into the intimate Whisky instead of the far bigger Amphitheatre. And yet Incubus casually carried itself like a band of classic rock veterans, a far more natural and convincing fit than on the likes of Creed.
The music was a mostly crisp storm of riffs and beats, erupting from a genuinely powerful unit: quietly charismatic singer Brandon Boyd, the whispery scratching of DJ Chris Kilmore and the roiling rhythms of bassist Dirk Lance, drummer Jose Pasillas and guitarist Michael Einziger.
All those formidable parts didn't always coalesce into memorable songs, but the music never stopped reaching for melodic nirvana, opening with the riff-heavy "Privilege." The band rode a consistently heavy groove, though the most tuneful moments de-emphasized the hard funk of its earliest days.
Incubus was also unafraid to drift into spacier territory, occasionally adopting a vaguely Eastern flavor.
Boyd's soaring vocals drifted into the dreamy "Stellar," one of several recent songs that have abruptly turned the band into formidable hit-makers.
At Saturday's homecoming show, Boyd seemed genuinely moved by the crowd's excitement, almost as if the accelerating success has come completely by surprise. By early in the set, he had slipped out of his shirt and shimmied to the music between lyrics, and he rarely stopped thanking fans.
Late in the set, he joined Einziger for a pair of acoustic songs and began gently teasing the guitarist about his big bushy hair. "Look at Mike's hair," Boyd said with a laugh. "It's got its own atmosphere."
Moments later, he was singing the ballads "Mexico" and "Drive," his voice pained and defiant, though never bitter or threatening.
And the lighters came out once again.