Friday, July 21, 2017

Judah and the Lion, Jimmy Eat World and Incubus

The family and I flew back into MacArthur late Tuesday night after 11 days in Florida. Luckily, I was off from work on Wednesday, because by Wednesday night, Denise and I were heading to Jones Beach to see Jimmy Eat World and Incubus.

I'm really not familiar with Jimmy Eat World. I watched some of their videos Tuesday night, and it turns out I had heard a few of their songs. On an iPod that I have stuffed with some 28,000 songs, though, I don't have even one Jimmy Eat World song. They just never made an impression on me.

As for Incubus, I'd say I'm a casual fan. I first got into them through "Black Heart Inertia" and their Monuments and Melodies album in 2009. They've never had either an album or a song make my Best Of lists for any given year, but I like them enough that I still buy their albums whenever a new one comes out. However, I've been pretty disappointed in their 8 album, released earlier this year. It feels to me like they predetermined a time when they were all going to come back together and create the next album, and when they actually did, it just didn't happen for them this time -- the creative juices just weren't flowing.

Denise likes them more than I do, and she likes 8 more than I do also. They have a little bit of funk to their sound, which always raises a band in her estimation, and she particularly likes the quality of Brandan Boyd's voice. I tried to get tickets to take her two years ago when they came around, but I either couldn't get them, or I couldn't get them at a reasonable price -- I don't remember which. But this time, one of the ticket agencies had some kind of special going where for a week or so, there were a bunch of shows that presumably weren't selling that well with tickets going for $20 a pop. This show was one of them, so Denise jumped on it. The tickets were supposed to be on the top level of the stadium, but when we got there, the show wasn't sold out even with the discounted tickets, so they gave us a free upgrade to the second tier.

The show was scheduled to start at 6:45 PM, and we didn't get there until a little after 7. So as we crossed the parking lot, we could hear that the show had already started. I was pretty sure it wasn't Jimmy Eat World playing, especially when I heard the band cover The Killers' "Mr. Brightside", but no one seemed to know who it was. Luckily, once we got outdoors, I saw that they had a banner overhead, telling us they're called Judah and the Lion.

A couple of words about the venue. I think the last time I saw a show there was when I took my son and his buddy to see Linkin Park 3 years ago, but it hasn't changed much. On the plus side, it's a nice, open stadium, and Wednesday happened to be a great night to see an outdoor show -- there was a cool breeze blowing throughout the night, making it a very pleasant environment. On the negative side, while there are signs all over indicating there's supposed to be no smoking in the seating area, obviously they're just kidding -- people were smoking and vaping their little hearts out while the adolescent-looking usher totally ignored them. Also negative -- for a hefty fellow like myself, the seats are just tight enough to be painful. My hips are still bruised two days later.

I can't give you much of an opinion of Judah and the Lion. By the time we got to our seats, there were only two songs left in their set, neither of which made much of an impression. But they were in a tough position, playing to a still mostly empty stadium, with the sound echoing all over the place, and while the crowd standing in front of them wouldn't have looked bad at a local club, at this venue, it looked miniscule. Denise was a little horrified that the band was using both an accordion and a banjo -- she's really not a fan of banjos. I thought they sounded OK, though.

Jimmy Eat World was up next. I like their sound well enough, but there's really nothing distinctive about them. They play a pleasant enough brand of pop punk, but I can think of about a dozen other bands who sound just like them. If I had to use one word to describe them, it would be "innocuous". I also thought that it was weird that for a known band who's been around a while, they didn't seem to be getting much respect -- Jones Beach has a huge stage, but they had Jimmy Eat World penned up into a small section of it in the middle like the press at a Hillary Clinton rally. I know that Incubus was the headliner, but JeW were being treated like a newbie band who should just be glad to be along for the ride. Anyway, about two-thirds of the way through their set, the stadium had filled up enough that the sound was noticeably improved -- finally, there were enough bodies in the seats that the music wasn't just echoing willy-nilly. Some of their best songs included a slow acoustic song called "Hear You Me", another track called "Pain", and my favorite JeW track, "Sweetness". They closed with another popular older number, "The Middle".

By the time Incubus took the stage, the sun had gone down. It was an especially dark night -- there was no moon, and I only saw one star. They started out with a curious choice, a low-energy number from their new album called "Love in a Time of Surveillance", then launched into "Warning" from their Morning View album. We were still far enough away that it was a little difficult to see the band, and unfortunately, while they had the show on two big screens placed on either side of the stage, instead of a straight video presentation, there were a bunch of effects distorting the picture -- sometimes the video was in black and white, sometimes they had effects going on in the background -- and because the night was already so dark, it was hard to follow the show even on the big screens.

It was an interesting and unusual crowd. A few rows in front of us, I saw a young woman who looked to be in her early 20's there with her parents. Dad was wearing an Incubus shirt from their 2002 tour, and he was loving every minute of the show. I could  be wrong, but I had the feeling that maybe daughter had bought her parents a couple of those $20 tickets as a treat for their anniversary or something. She seemed to be enjoying watching them enjoy the show. It was that kind of crowd.

A couple of thoughts on the show Incubus put on: 1. I thought Brandan Boyd was a little flat for the first few songs, but then he hit his stride. (Maybe it took them a few songs to get the sound in his monitors right). 2. While the stuff from the new album was accepted with mild enthusiasm by the crowd, all of the real excitement was for their older hits like "Drive" and "Wish You Were Here". 3) I was slightly disappointed by their set list. They didn't play "Black Heart Inertia", "Promises, Promises" or "Love Hurts", and they didn't play the one song I like best from the new album, "Familiar Faces". They also didn't play anything from their excellent Trust Fall (Side A) EP from 2015. And I was hoping they'd do "Switchblade" from If Not Now, When, although I knew that was a long shot.They did do a surprising encore, though, the quiet and cool "Aqueous Transmission". This was a nice surprise. 4) Tellingly, my favorite part of the night was when they played their song "Wish You Were Here", then morphed it into the last verse of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" at the end. 5) Unlike Jimmy Eat World, Incubus had the full run of the stage, but they didn't really use it much. They're a pretty staid band -- they play hard, but they don't move a lot. I saw Paramore at Jones Beach a few years ago, and Hayley Williams was all over the place. Not so much for Incubus. 6) One thing I did appreciate, though -- these guys know how to rock. I love pop hooks, and I enjoy bands that use a lot of synths. But sometimes, it's nice to see a band that's not afraid to just rock out, and do it well.

So overall, a decent night of music, made better by the cool and comfortable weather in the stadium. I don't know how I'd have felt for $75 or so a ticket, but for $25 plus a free upgrade on the seats, the show was a bargain.