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Uneven Incubus started with its hits and ended with some misses

PROVIDENCE -- Incubus surely ranks with the best modern-rock bands of the past few years. The platinum-selling Californians have played every festival imaginable -- from Lollapalooza to Ozzfest -- and have done so on their own terms, with an integrity and a political consciousness that ensures that George W. Bush won't be hiring them any time soon.

With Sparta
At: Dunkin’Donuts Center,
Providence, Friday night

Incubus has paid its dues -- and become one of the rare modern-rock bands to become arena headliners -- but the group didn't totally deliver the goods at a two-thirds-filled Dunkin' Donuts Center on Friday. Incubus started strongly but made the mistake of packing their hits into the first half of the show, then falling into some second-half monotony that is very unlike them. It was the most uneven show that I've seen them play -- and I consider myself a fan, having trucked far and wide to see them.

The strangest part might have been during the encores. The group never played its huge hit "Pardon Me," which was reworked wonderfully on the last tour with singer Brandon Boyd and guitarist Mike Einziger sitting on couches for a more reflective version. Instead, Incubus pulled out a generic, virtually note-for-note copy of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun," which the group has added for this tour. "You're not supposed to play a song from a band you liked when you were growing up," Boyd told the crowd, using some fuzzy logic that sure didn't stop Bruce Springsteen from covering half of his favorite R&B songs when he was younger.

Incubus also jettisoned all the video that made its last tour so evocative. Those shows featured a lot of nature footage of sunrises, sunsets, and mountain vistas reminiscent of its California home, but this time the band used only stage lighting. Some of it was impressive and trippy (a lot of floor spotlights shone onto the ceiling and spun around for Pink Floyd-like effects), but the video was missed.

As to the strong start, Incubus hit hard early with "Megalomaniac" (with the advice to "step down, step down," which most fans feel is aimed at Bush, though the band deflects specifics), the pummeling "Nice to Know You" (with the amped-up Einziger revealing why he's become a guitar god), "Just a Phase" (with new bassist Ben Kenney proving his mettle), "Priceless," "Wish You Were Here," and "Drive." But the second half lacked this same spirit and variety, so when Boyd said the group had "one more song to do" (before the encores), many in the crowd took the hint and left the arena quickly. A better-paced set would have prevented that. Still, this is a band that is many notches above most of its contemporaries and hopefully will have a long career to show for it.

Opening act Sparta (from Texas) had a hard-boiled, guitar-rock intensity, but a bad sound mix ruled out hearing any lyrics. Sadly, the opener was supposed to be Aussie rockers the Vines, but they blew off their whole US tour with Incubus because of "mental and physical exhaustion," according to a press statement. The group has "not broken up," the statement said, though there has been widespread speculation that the group has split.

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