Incubus : Manchester Apollo

...all the unholy menace of a sleepy gerbil...

The question is not if, but when. From the moment Brandon Boyd snakes into view wearing a long-sleeved black shirt that’s obviously far too warm for the spotlit stage, bets are being placed on how long it will take before the garment mysteriously falls off. To the singer’s credit, the ritual disrobing is executed with a certain subtlety: as each song passes, another button just – oh dear! – comes undone until his body- double midriff is fully revealed. He then straps a huge and unfortunately comical drum around his waist and starts beating it in a frenzy. Subtext? Well, no, unfortunately. Incubus don’t do subtext.

What Incubus will do is take those things that are fondly considered to be wild and unfettered – sexuality, passion, primitivism, rock’n’roll – and then tame them until they display all the unholy menace of a sleepy gerbil. The temptation tonight is to corner each screaming fan and, Mrs Merton style, ask them exactly what draws them to the band lead by the handsome, lithe, half-naked young rock star Brandon Boyd. But then you decide that must be unfair – impressively, Incubus are playingWembley Arena , not to mention two nights here at the Apollo. There must be another hook, you think, another reason for their startling success.

Two long hours later, the best you can come up with is the fact Brandon also plays the didgeridoo. It’s not only Boyd

‘s body that’s been gym-honed into obedience. The unusual percussion, the sampling and scratching, the churning guitars are all attempts to signify that Incubus are rock Mowglis running wild in a techno-pagan heaven. In fact, what you actually see are nice boys more at home in the air-conditioned mall, quite happy with their lot as consumer artefacts. Considering this is music meant for the young, the band are as fundamentally conservative and culture-shocking as a night in with ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ . For a start, Brandon actually does shout “Thank you Manchester!” and not just the once, either. The latent power-surge of the opening ‘Circles’ is undermined by the crisp efficiency of the samples and static, spontaneous like air-traffic control; the roughbook poetry of ‘Warning!’ is Celtic [a]Pearl Jam[/a] while a Brandon and Garfunkel acoustic interlude with the singer and Art-haired guitarist Peter Einziger seated on stools is mind-erasingly dreary.

‘Wish You Were Here’ and ‘Nice To Know You’ veer near to tunes, hinting at grand anthemic leanings, yet all the good work is undone by smouldering Chili Peppers funk and an uptight strain of muso earnestness.

When [a]White Stripes[/a] rendered themselves in Lego for their new video you could instantly tell that little pile of red and white bricks was Meg and Jack. If Incubus tried a similar trick, they’d just as easily be taken for a scale model of a drive-thru McDonalds. Yet for all their flaws, they do denote some kind of musical shift, their wannabe-sensitive nu-MOR instantly preferable to the devil-dog aggression of [a]Limp Bizkit[/a] and all those dribbling, white-socked fratboys. There’s nothing pernicious here, no violence, no aggro, just a vague idea of “feelings” that’s as wholesome and sterile as a bottle of vitamins.

Maybe after 50 years of unabashed abandon, rock’n’roll is finally heading for the health farm and a life of strenuous, character-building exercise, emotional congruence and cold showers. Well, as Incubus might say, nice to know you. Anyone looking beyond this aluminum-light metal however, knows that’s just not the case. This will pass. And, like Brandon’s shirt, it’s just a matter of time.

Victoria Segal