Driving The Porcelain Incubus
By Tom Parker
"We're here, making music together ... making love together ... and it's a beautiful thing."
Brandon Boyd, Incubus lead singer & owner of very girlish hips
Arena rock is back. I know. I witnessed it first hand last night at the San Jose State Events Center.
It returned in the form of Incubus, radio darlings and Top-40 rockers. It returned in the form of 7,000 sweaty teenagers, mouthing every word, holding up their lighters and perching their girlfriends atop their shoulders. It returned in the form of elaborate lighting and massive stage props.
In short, it returned exactly how it left - in the form of pretentious, self-absorbed, idol-worshipping, masturbatory crap - the organic manifestation of why punk rock happened.
It's funny, over the years I've loosed my grip on punk rock a bit. A little less angst I guess - maybe a little nostalgia for the 70's rock I basically grew up on (hell, in first grade I was actually reciting Eagles lyrics to my classmates - something about "barfing all over your girlfriend's shoes"). Either way, I was actually looking forward to this show. I liked some of their songs on the radio. I figured they'd put on a good show. And I thought it would be nice not to get the shit kicked out of me for once - to go home without a footprint on my head. You know, to just stand back, nod my head and enjoy a big old-fashioned rock show.
Well, it was big all right. HUGELY self-indulgent, incredibly boring, massively overwrought and just totally embarrassing. Basically, what I quickly realized is that even 20 years of nostalgia can't erase the reasons why arena rock sucked in the first place (although it can certainly add more - thanks to 90's PC paranoia and risk management, the Event Center no longer sells beer).
Here's a few highlights from the evening ...
Lead singer Brandon Boyd standing shirtless, his hairless, heroin-chic body glistening with sweat and his curly wet locks falling in his eyes, banging on a giant conga drum wedged between his legs. The way he stood there, back arched, crowd screaming - it was part Hitler youth rally, part villager summoning King Kong to come crashing out of the jungle. Horrid.
The living room furniture brought out for the acoustic numbers had all 4 band members "chillin'", sipping Evian and Coronas (fucking Corona???) and strumming along like some kind of hippy boy band at a dorm party. The only thing missing was the bong with the Zeppelin sticker and the platform sandaled coeds sprawled out at their feet. After this part of the show I renamed them N'Syncubus.
The 5 minutes of agonizing noodling between every goddamn song. It was like a Dead show, minus the drug-infused state of mind required to actually tolerate such a waste of time. Guitarist Mike Einziger would piddle and pop his strings, looking either stoned or deep in some sort of meditative Zen state (making him the only person there smart enough to actively put his conscious mind to sleep). But mostly it was just DJ Lyfe, poking buttons and making noises and trying to justify his existence on the stage (like most DJs, he spent the majority of the show with his headphones sandwiched in between his ear and shoulder, looking hip and thoughtful, and pulling records on and off his turntables - I really do think he was just a prop, like the giant staircase).
Singer Boyd, flush with deafening applause from yet another excruciatingly dull power ballad, addressing the crowd with, "Hey San Jose, what day is it? Ah, it doesn't matter. You're here. We're here. We're making music together ... making love together ... it's a beautiful thing." I shit you not - he actually said that. They should have given that sniper one last shot before they arrested him.
And finally, their last song had Boyd atop the giant staircase, arms outstretched, a larger than life sunset projected on the massive screen behind him, with guitarist Einziger perched atop a stool down below, playing the sitar. That's right, a sitar. Then, as the song climaxed into an orgy of noodling that I think had even the lighting guys nodding off, the sunset faded away into a galaxy of twinkling stars. The band then walked off the stage leaving behind the sound of a hundred croaking frogs (yes, just like on the album). Deep, deep stuff.
So what did I learn as the croaking frogs trailed off and I trudged past the masses of brainwashed South Bay youth? That Incubus and all their brethren (Linkin Park, POD, Puddle of Mudd, Limp Bizkit, etc. ad grunge rap nauseam), are no different from Head East, Grand Funk Railroad and the rest of the 70's arena rock poseurs. Crap music played by pretentious rock stars for gullible and impressionable youth. In short, it's rock and roll pomposity.
And it must die ... again.
Luckily Face to Face is playing at Slim's this month, and we'll all be doing our part. Good, emotional, inspired music played fast and loud for a small crowd of frenzied fans - just how it should be. The tickets will be cheap, the drinks will flow and we'll slip and fall in puddles of our own sweat, blood and beer.
So punk rock, I apologize for straying. I'm back, my head is on straight, my shoes are tied tight and I'm ready to return to the pit from which I came.
After all, nothing but a kick in the head and a pint of Guinness is gonna get this grungy taste out of my mouth.