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Pop Music Review

Incubus Rises Above Ear-Candy Level

Popular band from Calabasas makes more than just noise, offering sturdy grooves, pleasing melodies at Forum show.

April 20, 2002|MARC WEINGARTEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

All the parents who dropped off their kids at the Incubus concert Thursday at the Forum, and all those middle-aged chaperons with earplugs conspicuously shutting out the band's noise-quake, had nothing to fear.

This 20-something quintet from Calabasas may bring the noise, but a quick sift through the clamor reveals lyrics whose sentiments square with those youth-directed public service announcements the TV networks run during sporting events. Incubus is a band of moralists whose music is buffed out with the brawn of a WWF wrestler.

A classic case of local boys made good, Incubus released a self-made album independently in 1995, was signed to Epic records shortly thereafter. It then rode the metal-sentimentalist rock fad all the way to multi-platinum status and shows such as this, which was a near sell-out.

But it would be doing Incubus an injustice to place it on the same continuum as Staind and Nickelback, two bands that seem to regard acoustic guitars as little more than meal tickets toward radio immortality.

Granted, Incubus does a fine job of aiming straight for its target audience. Its lineup featured turntablist Chris Kilmore, who provided the requisite hip-hop window dressing, and dexterous bassist Dirk Lance, who, along with drummer Jose Pasillas, provided nimble funk grooves to guitarist Mike Einziger's circular riffs. Einziger is the band's linchpin, a technically slick player whose melodies wander into pleasing, unexpected territory. He lifts Incubus out of the neo-grunge gutter.

Incubus' lyrical messages can be reduced to greeting card aphorisms, but Einziger's wide-screen sonic constructions gave the songs a heftier emotional resonance for those who sang along to every word at the Forum.

"Drive," the band's first big hit, is about letting fear take over one's life. "Lately I'm beginning to find that I should be the one behind the wheel," sang lead singer Brandon Boyd, no doubt stirring the young hearts of every kid in the arena who has been grounded without dinner. "Nice to Know You" and "Mexico" are songs about romantic betrayal--one astringent and vituperative, the other a kind of tender kiss-off, both big hits with this crowd.

Incubus has located that special place where fear and disillusionment wrapped in metal bluster send out the right homing signals to both male and female listeners, and for that they have been amply recompensed. But the band can't be written off as mere marketeers. As songwriters, they don't dismiss structure, and if their lyrics tended toward the banal on Thursday, they were able to overcompensate with sturdy, nuanced grooves.

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