SEATTLE — A near-capacity crowd at Key Arena greeted headliners Incubus Friday night with open arms and open eyes — and deafening, wall-vibrating screams. Thousands of hollering fans — many encased in freshly purchased T-shirts from the merch tables — couldn’t be wrong: After more than a decade in the business, and years of touring far smaller venues with middling success, the band from sleepy Calabasas, California, has most definitely arrived.
But before they took to the stage, their So-Cal neighbors, Hoobastank, warmed up the Key with a thunderous half-hour set. The foursome had no problem filling up the arena with their crunchy, Faith No More-esque riffage, and frontman Douglas Robb worked the room like a nü-metal Wayne Newton, constantly hyping the crowd and calling back all the way to the cheap seats. Hard-driving numbers such as “Running Away” and “Hello Again” got the mosh pit moving, and their hit “Crawling in the Dark” nearly sent them over the edge, as Robb let it rip in full rock star stance.
With a half-hour to wait between sets, dozens filed out to eat and socialize (and possibly buy more T-shirts) in the venue’s outer halls, while a pre-recorded program called “Between the Acts,” featuring new music from the likes of up-and-comers Audiovent (see “Lil’ Incubus? Audiovent’s Boyd, Einziger Say No” ) and Rival Schools, played over the loudspeakers. Finally, just after 9 p.m., it was time: The girls in their belly shirts and the boys in their big jeans trembled alike with anticipation as the opening chords of “Circles” filled the arena.
Surrounded by a semi-circular ramp pitched at a 45-degree angle, the band appeared as relaxed and at ease as if it were playing a friend’s backyard barbecue, with frontman Brandon Boyd Sunday-afternoon casual in skater shorts, tee and open button-down. As the band segued into “Stellar,” a mid-tempo number off 1999′s Make Yourself, the screen behind the group pulsed with gently undulating jellyfish, surrounded by a thousand twinkly points of light. The next song hearkened back to 1997′s far more funky, slap-bassy S.C.I.E.N.C.E. sound, all Primus and Phish, and though the crowd moved along, it seemed happiest with a return to Incubus version 2.0, as Boyd broke out to dedicate “Wish You Were Here” to “our friend Joshua.”
As dozens surged toward the stage, the lead singer’s power over the crowd was obvious — though with such lyrics as “I suggest we learn to love each other before it’s made illegal” and “Floating in this cosmic Jacuzzi/ We are like frogs oblivious to the water starting to boil” (from “Warning,” which followed), it’s fairly obvious Boyd’s taking the much-maligned nü-metal genre in a different direction than Fred “Break Stuff” Durst and his allies. In keeping with the mellowing mood, stagehands soon brought out an entire living room set, complete with couches, comfy cushions and lamp, as Boyd and Mike Einziger settled in for several acoustic numbers, including the mournful “Mexico” and the usually rocking “Pardon Me” stripped down to its barest elements.
Looking suitably hunky yet sensitive, Boyd finally addressed the room, acknowledging with a laugh the crowd’s screams, accompanied by a distinctly herbal smell floating in the air: “We’re really not that good. It’s because of the weed!” Then, to the near seizure-inducing joy of a thousand young girls, the shirt came off, and Boyd grabbed a drum for a funked-up, topless “Vitamin.”
Finally, it was time for The Huge Hit, and “Drive” filled the stadium as the entire audience sang along. The band exited in old school style with “A Certain Shade of Green” from 1997′s S.C.I.E.N.C.E., though an encore seemed guaranteed.
Indeed Incubus delivered, returning for three numbers, including the spacy, Middle Eastern-inspired “Aqueous Transmission,” which Boyd prefaced by saying, “We think music is about taking chances, trying new things, so here we go; this stuff is maybe kind of weird.” Its “I Dream of Jeannie” charms worked just fine on the audience, which looked thrilled just to see the guys back on the stage.
Filing out into the night, a crowd sated on nearly two-and-a-half hours of music seemed nothing if not satisfied. On Morning View, the band asks, “Are You In?” The answer, it seems, for the thousands who filled the arena and the countless others sure to fill venues across the country as the tour continues, is a resounding Yes.