LIVE REVIEW: INCUBUS & PAPA VS PRETTY @ HORDERN PAVILION (03.02.2012)

So 1991 was a big year. Not least because the music world got the albums: Nevermind, Ten and Gish (they’re of course by Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins). It is also noteworthy because it’s when some of the members from Incubus began performing together in high school and when the three members from the support act, Papa Vs Pretty were born. I promise that’s the last you’ll here about their age with the exception that their future is looking darned bright when they exhibit this much talent so early on.

The Sydney trio were squashed at the front of the Hordern’s large stage but this didn’t stop the guys from constantly moving with uncontained enthusiasm for their brand of high-octane rock. They proved a good choice of opening act because their music at times shares a few things in common with the headliners, particularly when you consider the beefy guitar solos of the latter’s Mike Einziger and the crashing drums by Jose Pasillas. A case in point is “Charity Case” because it sounded like it could’ve been by Incubus but on a day when DJ (Chris) Kilmore had decided to go off record shopping.

“Life’s Got A Hold On Me” saw drummer Tom Myers trying to get the audience to clap along but they took some time to warm up. This was unlike the band’s frontman, Thomas Rawle who was acting every bit like an unhinged madman, thrashing his head up and down and not standing still for even a second. Of course, it all added to the raw vibe of things.

“Darkest Way” was such an awesome ditty; it could’ve been lifted from a Coke or Jeans ad where people dance around in the sun. It also contained moments where it retained some of the swagger synonymous with good, old fashioned Aussie pub rock, fighting its way along a sticky carpet full of spilt beer and stale cigarette smoke and when there’s so much of that you’d think there was an actual fire.

There was some more stomp provided in “Honey” with its Black Sabbath-style riffs. So while Tony Iommi was a clear reference here, another fabulous guitarist – this one closer to home – was referenced in “One Of The Animals,” that being Chris Cheney of The Living End. This track’s punchy feel also found its way into “Wrecking Ball,” a cut from their EP. The guys had put on an energetic set and if nothing else their slot reminded us that Rawle plays one mean motherf**ker of a guitar.

Now pardon me while I say this but there was a whole lotta love for Incubus in the room tonight. As soon as the guys took the stage the majority of the sold-out crowd had their camera phones out and ready to capture a piece of the action. We were rewarded with “Megalomaniac” with its light and feathery start before it built to an almighty crescendo of force. It was one so big that DJ Kilmore thrashed about and his long dreadlocks looked more like a skipping rope than the locks belonging to a hirsute musician.

But really, most of the eyes in the room were on one person and that was Messer Brandon Boyd. The guy is an absolute treat to watch and not just because he is damned easy on the eyes. More importantly, he has showmanship coursing through his veins, no matter if he’s shuffling about the stage like a bum, kicking up a storm like Anthony Kiedis, pulling moves like Jagger or overflowing with Michael Hutchence’s rock star cool. It’s all there and then some and that’s before you even consider the mighty voice, excellent poetry, etc, etc.

As expected, there was finger pointing and singing along to “Pardon Me”. It proved a feisty throwback and soared like an eagle with its multi-layered, alt rock glory. The following song, “Adolescents” was the first of many new cuts with others including: “In The Company Of Wolves” and “Switchblade”. The former had lots of thundering bass courtesy of Ben Kenney who initially looked like the hooded E from Eels. To his left, Einziger played lots of incendiary guitar riffs and produced so much volume and feedback; it was like an aural assault that overcrowded his slight frame.

“Privilege” saw Boyd spit the lyrics out like Johnny Rotten for a song that could’ve been by the Chili Peppers, but only had they been totally wired on speed. The guys seemed to share a few things in common tonight with the latter, their enthusiasm still remains sky-high even after many years in the game. Plus, both bands know how to put on a solid rock show and make it appear completely effortless. Well, except when Boyd decides to play the guitar….

Unfortunately, in new track, “If Not Now, When?” one wag in the audience was heard to remark, “Put the guitar down Brandon, you’ve tried before…” But the punter actually had a point because the song’s slower rhythm made it feel closer to a languid U2 number and the energy in the room did dip during this. The crowd clearly wanted the singer to get back to his usual business and thankfully he did with the raucous and fist pumping, “Anna Molly”.

Some Orwellian observations followed in “Talk Shows On Mute” which combined some Pixies-like riffage with electronic blips that could’ve been performed by Architecture In Helsinki. Boyd was in his element, looking after the crowd by asking us how we “boys and girls” were doing. And even as he was playing with his t-shirt, pulling it over his head and playing around like a mock zombie before eventually shedding himself of the thing, people watched on enthralled and returned the love by yelling out the crazed war cry-like, “In-cu-bus!”

But the two best moments from the mosh pit were thanks to the people who got a tad imaginative. Having heard Silverchair play a Frogstomp-era festival and hearing Daniel Johns say, “That’s good moshing up in the tree” and seeing a guy dancing on top of The Big Top’s metal scaffolding during Cut Copy at Homebake last year, it’s fair to say the bar has been raised for creative thinking on the spot. But Incubus fans are as artistic as the band, which is probably why we saw one guy dancing with an open umbrella (never mind the bollocks of bad luck) or a blind person on the barrier who waved their cane in appreciation. Top stuff!

Boyd introduced us to the “groovy” Mike before delivering an honest and tender version of “Love Hurts”. A track as exposing in its emotions as The Bride Stripped Bare, it left us all feeling warm and fuzzy before the weary grunt of “Warning”. “Are You In?” meanwhile, saw Boyd looking disheveled and calling up the spirit of Jim Morrison not least because the band segued mid-song into a few bars of The Doors’ “Riders On The Storm”.

The highlights of the night and the songs worth the price of admission alone were the final three of the main set. “Nice To Know You” was sweaty and rough. It also proved a tad ironic given that as Boyd was singing “Nice to know you, goodbye!” a bloke managed to get past security and almost rushed onto the stage. He was stopped and escorted out by a gaggle of beefcake guards as the band pressed on, undeterred by the incident. The following, “Drive,” had crunchier and more intense guitar riffs than the opulent acoustic strums of the original but it nevertheless created some twinkle-eyed nostalgia before the searing ending that was, “Wish You Were Here”.

Of course it wasn’t quite over because some rapturous applause got the boys back for an encore. Unfortunately, this seemed flat because new song, “The Original” just seemed to pale in comparison to its predecessors. At least closer, “A Certain Shade Of Green” faired better with the centerpiece being Einziger’s almost machine-gun riffs.

The guys had performed an epic set at close to two hours and it had taken a mighty blow out of their behemoth catalogue (even though “Stellar” was a glaring omission). The guys had entertained us with their hard-hitting, sprawling rock and big, bold statements that were like flashes of lightness, darkness, angst and all-round jaggedness. Twenty one years in the biz and it seems these guys continue kicking goals and jams in equal measure, so there’s certainly no need to go back to the rock ‘n’ roll high school where it all began…

Originally published on 5 February 2012 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/live-review-incubus-papa-vs-pretty-hordern-pavilion-03-02-2012

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