For those not in the know, Incubus is a staple of alternative radio and a band that mixes hard rock, lite-funk and middling scratch-rap into a percolating brew that sells millions of records. They are very American, very white-bread, kinda-angry, but still sexy enough to get the 14 year-old girls cooing. I can't say I love their music, but I also can't deny the memorable hooks that adorn their biggest hits, such as "Wish You Were Here" and the unavoidable "Pardon Me" (perhaps their best-known anthem). It's all a bit rote, perhaps, not to mention derivative of their bigger, better Seattle forebearers, such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. But when the band wants to lay it down and go for the jugular, they can deliver a pretty decent alterna-rock maelstrom.
'Alive at Red Rocks' chronicles a stop on the band's highly-successful 2004 tour, was more than just another sold-out show for the California natives. Red Rocks is a legendary venue for any band to play, and to the group's credit, they come off as genuinely humble during the show's sparse between-song banter. In terms of a calculated non-image, they have the formula down pat -- they don't really seem like rock stars, never putting themselves on a pedestal above their fans. Instead, they come off as just five guys who, back in 1993, formed a garage band and, over a decade of hard work, made it big. And when they jam, as they do on such tracks as the chaotic "Vitamin," a sense of real joy flows out of the music, nicely off-setting the sometimes affected, shtick-y angst that powers most of the rest of their set.
As a live concert disc, I was a bit disappointed by 'Red Rocks.' Aside from the beauty of the surroundings, the show is rather static. The stage set is utterly dull, which keeps the focus on the music but does little to stave off tedium when watching at home. The band also seems oddly detached from each other -- aside from the aforementioned jams, there is little unscripted banter or byplay. Singer Brandon Boyd himself is a curious cross between the Red Hot Chili Pepper's Anthony Kiedis and the Lemonheads' Evan Dando, but without the charisma of either, making little direct contact with the audience. He often closes his eyes and sings off to the heavens or to either side of the stage, coming off a bit too above it all to be a truly involving, electric frontman.
But on a purely musical level, and for the band's fans, 'Alive at Red Rocks' delivers a fine representation of the group's stage show. The 19-strong track list is inclusive of all of their radio hits, so it is hard to imagine any diehard walking away from this one this one disappointed.
The track listing is: 01. Megalomaniac / 02. Nice to Know You / 03. Idiot Box / 04. Just a Phase / 05. Priceless / 06. Beware! Criminal / 07. Wish You Were Here / 08. Here In My Room / 09. Drive / 10. Vitamin / 11. Pistola / 12. Stellar / 13. Made for TV Movie / 14. Talk Shows on Mute / 15. Sick, Sad Little World / 16. Green / 17. Pantomime / 18. The Warmth / 19. Pardon Me
I've reviewed some mighty fine concert releases from Sony BMG lately, including 'Destiny's Child: Live in Atlanta' and 'John Legend: Live at the House of Blues,' but 'Incubus: Alive at Red Rocks' may be the best-looking of the bunch. This is a thoroughly excellent presentation -- in fact, it's just about perfect.
Filmed with ten HD cameras, the show is presented uncut in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video. (Note that according to the specs from Sony, the in-between-song crowd shots were filmed in 480p video and upconverted, so they look intentionally grainier.) The clarity is terrific. There is nary a shot that does not look three-dimensional. It's sharp as a tack, with superior contrast that excels even in the shadows. I was also pleased at how smooth the image is -- there are no jaggies or other motion artifacts, which can often mar transfers of live HD material. (To the show's benefit, it is not over-edited, so there is little fast motion to wreck havoc with the encoding.) Colors are also rich and vivid, with no chroma noise or smeariness.
My only complaint is some slight noise in the darkest areas of the picture. It's very minor, and pretty rare, but it does keep 'Alive at Red Rocks' from earning a perfect five stars. But make no mistake -- this one looks awesome.
Even better than the video is the audio. There is simply nothing to complain about here. Sony BMG offers uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround (48kHz/24-bit/6.9mpbs) and 2.0 stereo (48kHz/24-bit/2.3mbps) mixes, plus a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track (640kbps). The PCM 5.1 mix is clearly superior -- it could bitch-slap the Dolby with one hand tied behind its back.
The concert itself sounds fabulous. The clarity and depth to the entire sonic spectrum is incredibly realistic and trult palpable. I've heard plenty of live concert recordings, but few sound as clean, well-mixed and nicely balanced as this. The crowd is integrated perfectly with the band performance, and none of the instruments seem to be fighting each other. The illusion of separation between the front three channels is also superb. It sounds very organic but still dynamic, with the bass, drums and guitar pronounced but harmonious. Vocals never have to fight for attention, nor do they sound too "dry" or overpumped in the center channel.
Even surround use, though largely devoted to crowd noise as is typical for a rock concert recording, boasts some nice effects. The guitars, plus occasional keyboard and DJ embellishments, are clearly audible in the rears, but again are wonderfully integrated into the mix as a whole. Aurally speaking, 'Incubus: Alive at Red Rocks' is fantastic stuff -- especially played loud.
'Incubus: Alive at Red Rocks' was originally released on standard-def DVD last year, and now it hits Blu-ray with the same couple of extras (plus a Blu-ray exclusive, see below). The supplements are not atypical of the type of material we usually get on concert DVDs, though these goodies have the distinction of being presented completely in 1080p video. Nice.
First there are 13 minutes of Backstage footage, divided into five segments: "Hardcore Fans," "Make Yourself Foundation," "Soundcheck," "Showday" and "Backstage." All I can say is that I'm either getting really old, or I weep for the future. The fans they chose to highlight are either all inebriated white trash, just plain idiotic, or both. The depth of comments range from, "Incubus is, like, awesome dude!" to "I'm, like, a lesbian, but I'd totally switch for you guys!" Deep shit. The band footage doesn't offer much better, aside from photo ops with fans and typical montage footage of soundchecks, behind-the-scenes preparations, the group playing videogames, etc. Perhaps a genuine band interview about the music and the show could have been a bit more rewarding.
There are also five Bonus Tracks, accompanied by an interactive HD image gallery, which is pretty cool. Select one of the five songs -- "Pantomime," "Follow," "Monuments & Melodies," "Are You In?" or "Circles," and then click around a grid of forty different behind-the-scenes and onstage stills. Or, you can select the "Play All" function, which will cycle through all the selections for you, as an animated montage. Very well done.
Note that the Blu-ray is also a two-disc set. Included in the keepcase is a bonus CD with audio-only versions of the above five songs. For some this might be considered overkill, as both the Blu-ray and the CD feature 2.0 stereo mixes only of the tracks. A full-on 5.1 mix would have been cooler, but at least we get the HD gallery with the Blu-ray.
There is also 8-page color booklet included, with a few live shots from the show, and disc credits.
Incubus' soaring hard rock sound may not be to everyone's taste, but it is obviously yours if you've read this far. 'Alive at Red Rocks" is exactly what a fan is likely to want: an unpretentious, terrifically-produced document of a milestone show in the band's career. This Blu-ray release from Sony BMG won't disappoint, either. The video and audio are excellent, and the extras sharply presented in full 1080p video. This one's a no-brainer for Incubus fans.