Twenty two years ago, California surf hippies Incubus were hurtling towards multi-platinum status on the back of Drive, an acoustic road-trip anthem which found its way into the US Top 10 and the repertoire of many a bedroom guitarist. Their breakthrough album, Make Yourself, found the quintet inexplicably tagged as nu-metal; its mega-selling follow-up, Morning View, seemed intent to debunk such comparisons by incorporating Chinese instruments, a Japanese orchestra and the sound of recorded frogs.
Sadly, the frogs haven’t made it to Birmingham – perhaps they were delayed at customs – but, after having slightly lost their way in recent years, the band are revisiting those two much-loved albums live. If the more dated songs’ blend of big, sludgy riffs and DJ Kilmore’s hip-hop scratching at least partly explains the nu-metal tag, the Morning View songs in particular suggest that at heart Incubus have always been an expansive Pearl Jam-type rock band with a certain esoteric spirituality. Guitarist Mike Einziger is continually inventive, and frontman Brandon Boyd is an old-school, long-haired, hippyish would-be poet-turned-rock god of the Jim Morrison variety, who implicitly acknowledges the influence when he dips into the Doors’ Riders on the Storm.
Boyd is certainly charismatic – he throws everything into his performance. The chiselled frontman “conducts” the band with his hands, sings lyrics such as “the ocean looks like a thousand diamonds strewn across a blue blanket” and, at 46, can still take his top off without anyone shouting for him to put it back on. Einziger straps on an acoustic guitar for the haunting Mexico and the solitary new(ish) song – 2020’s Karma, Come Back – blends delicate melodies and Led Zeppelin riffola to terrific effect. It’s a strong, albeit nostalgia-heavy, show all about their big-chorussed early anthems, and Boyd looks delighted as the audience sing them with him. By the time Incubus close with the inevitable 1999 epic Drive, there’s barely a mouth that isn’t singing, and hardly a fist that doesn’t punch the air.
Incubus play the Royal Albert Hall, London, 29 September and the Apollo, Manchester, on 2 October.