Incubus | Softcult
O2 Apollo, Manchester
2nd October 2022
Californian rockers Incubus roll back the years on Sunday night, playing a set laden with classics to a packed Manchester O2 Apollo.
Arriving a little before 6.45 I’m greeted by huge queues, overflowing car parks with vehicles abandoned on verges and blocking entrances. The queue continues to grow until doors open promptly at seven. Meanwhile, cars continue to arrive, desperately searching for non-existent places to park.
Support act Softcult take to the stage promptly at 7.30. They’re greeted by an already packed venue. I’ve heard the Canadian twins music described as feminist grunge. The grunge label certainly fits. The band deliver a performance infused with light and shade in pace and volume so characterised by the genre. Their 30-minute set is an enjoyable listen with energy levels steadily building. Closing number Uzumaki is preceded by a spoken word rant worthy of Patti Smith and sees vocalist Mercedes Arn-Horn and her guitarist writhing on the floor as the track builds to a crescendo.
Many gigs, good or indifferent, are simply gigs. Others seem to have an aura; filled with a sense of anticipation. Tonight feels like one of those nights among a crowd mostly in their 30s and 40s who grew up listening to Incubus.
Lights dim to the meandering strains of Dire Straits, Money For Nothing but Mark Knopfler’s oh so familiar riff never comes. Instead, Incubus burst into Nice To Know You; probably just as familiar to those in the audience. It’s a great way to start, it’s ebb and flow utterly engaging with many in the crowd quick to join in the chorus. The riff-heavy Circles follows and then we’re into Wish You Were Here; showcasing another trademark big chorus and the first turntable scratching of the night. Anna Molly further ratchets up the pace with vocalist Brandon Boyd prowling the stage. Visually, he’s a perfect complement to the music; the archetypal rock singer.
Inevitably the pace eventually slows. Just A Phase and Are You In are slower and more melodic, the latter with some tasteful scratching and a jazzy feel in places. The band also tease something special with a snippet of The Doors, Riders On The Storm, but it fades to nothing. Sick, Sad Little World restores momentum, which reaches a peak with an excellent rendition of Megalomaniac a couple of songs later. It epitomises the band’s dynamics (and grunge credentials) in moving effortlessly between light and shade.
Musically, Incubus are faultless, but visually this is the Brandon Boyd show. The others generally keep to their stations, often dimly lit in the background. There are occasional exceptions. Guitarist Mike Einziger takes centre stage for a tasteful acoustic rendition of Mexico. Later, Chris Kilmore briefly deserts his keyboards/turntables for a stage front foray to unfurl his impressive dreadlocks. Boyd meanwhile remains a constant focal point, restlessly roaming the stage. Beginning in baggy joggers and sweatshirt, the layers are gradually removed to reveal a man well into his fifth decade who clearly takes pride in his body. Each unveiling incites considerable roars of approval (mostly) from the sizeable female contingent in the crowd.
Karma Come Back begins slowly before erupting, while Vitamin sees the band at their most intriguing. This is Incubus embracing prog-rock. Different time signatures, wildly frenetic at times, spoken word passages, all culminating in a percussion / scratching whig out. It’s a real highlight. The Warmth ebbs and flows in pace, featuring some impressive guitar work, before the band close with Dig. The opening notes see arms raised aloft and the massed voices of the Apollo singing in unison as the song builds.
Of course, there’s an encore; of course, they play Drive, and of course, there’s an ecstatic response. The venue becomes a sea of raised arms and voices, with even those in the oft detached circle crowd embracing the atmosphere.
It’s been a great gig, but as the applause fades I can’t help but wonder what’s next for Incubus. Their set’s dominated by material that’s 20 years old. Karma Come Back from 2017 is tonight’s most current material. There’s no space for a couple of 2019/20 single releases. Meanwhile, Brandon Boyles recently released solo album and a 2021 art exhibition suggest his creative juices are currently elsewhere. Nevertheless, I’d still bet that Incubus will be back in Manchester in a few years time. No doubt delivering another great set filled with classics to another adoring audience. Everyone will just be a few years older.
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Words and photos by Trev Eales. More work by Trev on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s profile. His photography portfolio is here