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Smooth operator: Incubus’ Brandon Boyd. Photo by Martin Benjamin

Noises On
By Ann Morrow

Incubus, Phantom Planet
Pepsi Arena, June 12

Southern California quintet Incubus started out playing innocuous, rap- and funk-inflected lite metal at all-ages shows—but they’re all grown up now. A half-dozen hits and more than two continuous years on the charts have given the band the confidence and chops to stretch out past junior-high suburbia, and at the Pepsi Arena last Wednesday, they roved into pyschedelia, white noise, and scratchy hiphop during a lengthy set of pleasingly melodic hard rock. It was a bolder showing than their area debut at Ozzfest 2000, and if no one worked up a sweat (except maybe when front man Brandon Boyd finally removed his shirt), the evening definitely exceeded expectations.

The expectations of radio listeners, that is, who may know the band only for their recent airwave staples “Nice to Know You” (the introductory song), and “Wish You Were Here.” In between those rollickingly plaintive tunes was a crashing interlude of spacey cacophony that let the audience know the band had more to offer than catchy choruses and pretty-boy Boyd. Incubus’ often impressive versatility can be credited to guitarist Mike Einziger, who aside from laying down some of the most hummable riffs this side of Godsmack, tossed off enough intricate nuggets of noise to make you think he might be moonlighting in some underground experimental trio: The grittily tripped-out “Aqueous Transmission” was one highlight you’ll never hear on TRL. Adding to the evening’s moody ambience were Boyd’s occasional use of a kettle drum and the DJ’s strafing astral projections.

Drummer Jose Pasillas had the flashiest gear, but while he and the bassist kept the rhythms solidly on track, they didn’t call too much attention to themselves. And neither did Boyd, the latest sex symbol for the YM set since cutting off his dreadlocks (in keeping with the band’s progression away from the Pepper-sprayed ditties of their early years). A smooth but unaffected operator, the chiseled front man concentrated on the songs rather than his (tastefully enthusiastic) effect on the heavily female audience. The backing video screen of starry skies and hallucinogenic skeletons didn’t offer the audience a close-up gander at the band until past the midway point (a tactic more arena acts should emulate).

Boyd’s focus on his songwriting was justified, although it’s the rich undertones and melting sincerity of his vocals that gave the songs “Pardon Me,” and, especially, “Just a Phase” a heart-dinging intensity not heard on the airwave versions. And the roiling “Blood on the Ground” showed that Incubus can rock as dramatically as any of their more disturbed tour mates on their Ozzfest outings. An acoustic-style set piece (with couch and coffee tables), however, was a mixed blessing. Shorn of Einziger’s variegated guitar slinging, Boyd met the challenge of enrapturing the back rows with his desert-poet lyrics and honeyed wail, along with a charismatically mellow “Morning View,” title track of the latest release. But as the desert vistas of California scrolled in the background, the acoustic vibe went on to embrace too much of the midtempo mediocrity that plagues every Incubus album, costing the evening enough momentum that even a heartfelt rendition of “Drive” could barely get the groove back.

The résumé of Phantom Planet may read like a gag (the geeky actor from Rushmore, some other guy from Danny Darko, and Nicolas Cage’s cousin) but their opening set (at least the last three songs) was no joke: Huge sound, swan-diving tempos, and vocals that can carry listeners out to sea, even if they’re just navigating for a seat in the bleachers.

Tough Love

Amy Rigby, Group W
Valentine’s, June 13

Amy Rigby has a deadly sense of humor. From the stage downstairs at Valentine’s last Thursday night, the current Nashville resident related a common music-business criticism of her songs: They’re written too much from the female perspective. So, Rigby said, she took this to heart. She then sang what would have been a fairly straight country tune, save for the deadpan quality of its misogynist refrain: “I hate every bone in her body/Except mine.”

Backed by New York musicians Jon Graboff on guitar and Joe McGinty on keyboards, Rigby sang about love from a decidedly jaundiced angle. In seriocomic songs enriched with delicious irony, Rigby chronicled the minor advantages of a barely acceptable lover in “Cynically Yours” (“The thought of us together doesn’t fill me with dread”), and coolly observed the effects of middle age on the average immature male in “Invisible” (“Guy strolls up and tells me/Hey your daughter’s awful cute”). In “Keep It to Yourself,” she suggested the murder of her no-good, cheating ex to a current lover, helpfully noting that “they’re pouring concrete out on route 33.” In “Beer and Kisses,” she viewed the decline of a relationship with a heartbreaking mixture of regret, anger, and even a small measure of hope.

A critics’ favorite since her 1998 debut, Rigby hasn’t had much luck connecting with a larger audience. She can’t be easily pigeonholed, musically or lyrically. Thursday she rocked like Jerry Lee Lewis on the country shitkicker “Raising the Bar,” hit a radio-friendly, contemporary pop note on “The Good Girls,” and evoked the romanticism of late ’50s-early ’60s pop on “All I Want.”

She showed that she’s tough, too, when her set got off to a less than auspicious start. The club was crowded with friends and followers of opening act Group W, who played a noisily received, muscular, eclectic, and ultimately unwieldy mix of covers and originals. (Singing “Bust a Move” was inspired; turning it into an extended jam was not.) Unfortunately, the noisy enthusiasm for their bar-band pals turned into cacophonous indifference to Rigby—talk about “Invisible.”

Rigby wasn’t having it. Before the first song, she announced “I don’t know if we can match the testosterone of Group W,” and then launched into the laconic “Balls.” When the incessant yapping continued, she grabbed her mike and charged off the stage into the crowd to sing, announcing “I’m just trying to find a comfortable place to stand.” Well, if you can’t win ’em over, drive ’em away. The chuckleheads took the hint and cleared out, leaving the small but attentive crowd to enjoy one terrific song after another.

—Shawn Stone

Time’s Not Up

Living Colour, Black Inc.
Northern Lights, June 17

As we approach the midyear, I’d have to assess Monday night’s twin concert bill at Northern Lights as one of 2002’s best and most balanced to date, as it offered something (relatively) old, something (relatively) new, and lots of things that were simply kickass, inspirational and superb, regardless of their (relative) age.

The evening’s opening set marked the first concert performance by Black Inc., an all-star ensemble of sorts featuring the instrumental heart of the last and best Clay People line-up (guitarist Mike Guzzardi, bassist Brendan Slater and drummer Dan Dinsmore), aided and abetted by Troycore refugee and jazz guitar maestro George Muscatello and former East Wall singer Dan Kohler, back onstage after an eight-year-long performing hiatus. The freshly minted quintet’s debut show sure didn’t feel or sound like it was a first performance, as the group ripped through an excellent set that did justice to their formidable instrumental chops, and allowed Kohler the room to absolutely sing the shit out of the emotionally intense, nicely mature (in the good sense of that word) new songs. What’s it all sound like? Take the awesome power of the latter day Clay People, strip out the industrial elements and replace them with melodic intensity of such groups as Sevendust or Soundgarden or Staind, and you’ll get the general idea—except that the twin guitar magic that Guzzardi and Muscatello flirted with on Monday night far exceeded the quality of the stringwork in most of those groups’ material. An auspicious first step from a band well worth watching. And hearing, too.

Which brought us to the something (relatively) old component of the evening, as Living Colour (dormant since touring behind their 1993 disc, Stain) reunited to kick ass in ways that I had forgotten rock bands could kick ass. While the evening’s advertising noting that “all original members” would be onstage wasn’t quite right, it was more than OK that they weren’t, since the better incarnation of the band was in the house instead: guitarist Vernon Reid, singer Corey Glover, drummer Will Calhoun and bassist Doug Wimbish (who replaced founding four-string man Muzz Skillings for the recording of Stain).

The aural interplay between these four immensely talented performers was simply astonishing and absolutely transcendent: As good as the band’s records are (and they are quite good, thank you), none of them get anywhere close to doing justice to the Living Colour concert experience. The density of the group’s hard-rocking performance was the most distinctive element of their sound, as Reed’s stream-of-grooviness guitar work filled just about every sonic nook and cranny he could find, and a collection of deftly deployed ambient samples, synths, treated vocals, electronic percussion and turntable action took care of the ones he couldn’t find.

The overall effect came across like Tool with more heart, or King Crimson with more ass, or Rage Against the Machine if they could manage to hook up with a singer less annoying than either Zack de la Rocha or Chris Cornell. Not that they’d be likely to land a vocalist as impressive as Glover, mind you, since there aren’t many other vocalists as impressive as Glover out there to be had: The man can sing in ways that most metal-inspired screamers couldn’t even begin to dream about, much less mimic, and his onstage charisma and interactions with his band mates and audience made for damn fine viewing as well as listening.

I’d list a few show highlights if the entire show hadn’t stayed at the highlight stage from git-go to git-gone. Suffice to say that they played something(s) old and something(s) new—and that if there’s a God in heaven and He likes to make His music- loving people happy, then we can but hope, pray and beg that Living Colour stay together forever and ever, amen, and keep making music like they made here Monday night.

—J. Eric Smith

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