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Incubus & Sparta
2004 Summer Tour.
By Mark Hensch 

I was lucky enough to attend the July 7th edition of the "Crow Left of the Murder" Tour featuring Sparta and Incubus last night, and it had plenty of awesome high spots (and a handful of low ones too), not to mention a backstory behind it all that has too many twists and turns to count. Here are some of the thing that went right (or maybe even went wrong).

Remember that backstory I spoke of? When this tour was first announced in late April or early May Incubus was scheduled to headline with a strange opening act; Aussie garage rockers the Vines. Despite my doubts as how well the two bands would meld together on stage, I purchased a ridiculously steep ticket at $34.95, and prayed for the best. About a month away from the big night, the Vines were announced to have dropped off the tour for reasons of "excess stress." To understand the irony of that press release, one should  recall at that time that the Vines had combusted onstage, walked out on one another, and insulted a club full of fans on one of Australia's biggest radio stations. Finding themselves banned from being played on one of the most important radio networks in their home country, rumors of the band breaking up began to fly and as of this time have not fully been resolved.

I jumped for joy when shortly after this travesty it was announced that sonic dream pop rockers Sparta would be replacing the Vines on tour. If you don't know of Sparta, they are one half of the much heralded At The Drive In breakup, alongside The Mars Volta.

Arriving early at the arena, I had high hopes for Sparta's stage show as I had seen them before and I felt they were pretty good. Taking the stage at about 7:30, Sparta totally killed any hope I had for another good showing when they played an absurdly short 20 minute set of about five songs. To further complicate things, the band played four songs from their upcoming sophomore release, Porceline.

As the album is still about five days from release as of the time of this writing, only a Sparta fan with ESP would have been able to enjoy the songs the band played onstage. With not even the most die hard of fans knowing the words, the band played to a largely unresponsive crowd that didn't know what to do with the act playing onstage. If it's any consolation to Sparta, the first four songs they previewed for the upcoming album seemed fairly promising. I was a little happier when the bass lines for one of my favorite Sparta tunes, "Air," began to cascade over the seemingly bored and edgy crowd as a wavy light effect draped the band in it's glow and a Sparta swan banner. The crowd, along with me, seemed to enjoy hearing this song, as a fair amount of people began to sing along. I can't help but feel that Sparta's set was a major letdown due to it's limited length. 

I saw this in a local newspaper, and at the time I didn't realize what had been said exactly:  "Sparta frontman Jim Ward lashed out at the distant and suprisingly cold Van Andel Arena crowd, saying 'It's real easy to take some {expletitive} when you're way out there; This is what I'm doing with my life.  Why don't you go up here and do something?' to a group of very vocal hecklers."

After probably a hour of setting up, Incubus took the stage and busted out one of their newer singles, "Megalomaniac." The political references of the song were probably lost on the fans as the entire floor finally livened up and began to jump in unison with each and every chorus. This foreshadowed a massive set Incubus would perform over the course of about the next hour and a half. I was amazed to see that Incubus would keep their catalog of A Crow Left of the Murder songs surprisingly medium, saving only power ballads "1984" and "Talk Show on Mute" for the closing pieces of the set and playing "Sick, Sad Little World", "Pistola" and "Priceless" somewhere in the middle. I personally felt that A Crow Left of the Murder was one of the weakest albums released by Incubus in recent memory (though a welcome hint of a return to older styles) and I was shocked that the band didn't support it more, opting instead to play a group of tunes spanning the band's decade or so long history.

All of the older Incubus albums were given at least minor representation, but the main two of the night were easily the band's mainstream breakout Make Yourself and equally popular follow up Morning View. Incubus pulled out Morning View singles "Wish You Were Here," and harder edged rocker "Nice to Know You" early on to keep things rolling. Melancholy ballad "Just a Phase" was one of the highlights of the night; a myriad of colors swirled on frontman Brandon Boyd as he showcased his often underrated singing voice for the crowd in perfect ballad fashion. Funk jam "Are You In?" was snuck in later in the night, and was played in extended form to allow Dj Kilmore to scratch like mad. Make Yourself gave us singles "Drive" (in a piano laden remixed version featuring two solos)  and one of the encore songs "Pardon Me" which closed the show with a bang. S.C.I.E.N.C.E. was also given chances to shine, as "Vitamin",  "Idiot Box" and "A Certain Shade of Green." were given stage time to allow older fans to recollect the good old days.

All in all, this was a fairly good show. My only complaint was the fact I shelled out nearly $40 for two bands, one of which played a mere five songs. Incubus played a marvelous and memorable set that started to drag before the encore, (one of the songs was the theme to "Sponge Bob Square Pants" Incubus style) and by the end of the night it was with only a twinge of regret that I went home. I hope for the sake of other tour stops Sparta is given more time, and that Incubus keeps playing songs off of all their albums, not just their mainstream hit ones.

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