Tal Wilkenfeld joins Incubus while bassist Ben Kenney recovers after brain op

Tal Wilkenfeld and Ben Kenney
(Image credit: Gary Gershoff/Getty Images; Valeria Magri/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Aussie bass guitar phenom Tal Wilkenfeld has joined Incubus while long-serving bassist Ben Kenney takes some time out to recuperate following brain surgery.

The Californian rockers confirmed the move on Instagram yesterday (26 January), and wished Kenney a speedy recovery. 

“To our beloved fans in Costa Rica, Texas and Louisiana: Our Incubus brother and bandmate, Ben Kenney, is currently recovering from a recent medical procedure and will be unable to perform with us on our upcoming run at the end of the month,” wrote the band in a statement. “In his absence, our good friend, Tal Wilkenfeld, will be filling in for him on bass and we look forward to performing with her on these shows!  We wish Ben a speedy recovery and cant wait for him to rejoin us onstage soon! Much love <3.”

Ben Kenney was diagnosed with a brain tumour last year and underwent successful surgery to have it removed. He posted a picture of the scar on Instagram, and said he was taking some time away from the stage and social media to recover. 

“I won’t physically be at the shows but I will be there in spirit,” he wrote. “I miss you all and I hope you and your loved ones are safe and in good health.”

Wilkenfeld has played with a who’s who of musical talent that includes Prince, Herbie Hancock, the Allman Brothers Band, and most famously with the late Jeff Beck.

Some players might be intimidated about being drafted in for a tour at relatively short notice, with shows coming hot on the heels of the announcement at The Picnic Festival in Costa Rica on Saturday 28 January, followed by a string of dates in Texas and New Orleans from 31 January. But Wilkenfeld’s the sort of player you just throw an instrument to and call the tune.

Speaking to MusicRadar in 2020, she said she never bothered with a metronome to keep time with; she just played along to records, and with other people, and advises us to do the same.

“If the aim is to have your own sense of time and feel, if you’re relying on a metronome it could become a crutch,” Wilkenfeld said. “It’s always better to practice with humans – either on a record or other humans you actually know!”

But speaking of preparation, or the lack of it, Wilkenfeld’s audition for Jeff Beck’s band was legendary. Having made the crucial mistake of having barbecued chicken pizza before flying out with his band for the audition, Wilkenfeld started feeling something off during the flight. 

As she told MusicRadar, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta was fulminating about something as she was turning green. 

Tal Wilkenfeld

(Image credit: Tal Wilkenfeld)

“I remember saying to him, ‘Hey, Vinnie, I’m feeling a little sick,’ or something, and I remember him saying, ‘Oh, really? That’s a shame...’ and he went back into his political rant,” Wilkenfeld recalled. “About two minutes later I held up a filled-up bag and I said, ‘There it is.’ I’d thrown up into this bag without him even noticing because he was raving on about politics.

“The 10-hour journey was me, sick, to the point that when we landed I almost fell down the stairs of the aeroplane onto my hands and knees. Then got straight into an ambulance, went to the hospital, got put on a drip and they ended up leaving me in the hospital overnight.”

The next morning was little better but Beck’s manager called her and asked if she was ready. A car picked her up. After a four-hour drive she arrived at the house, half-dead, but with Beck raring to go. That’s when she knew the collaboration was going to work.

“When I arrived I thought we were going to hang out, relax, chill,” she said. “But as soon as we got there Jeff’s like, ‘You ready to play?’ So we went upstairs and rattled off his entire set in probably an hour and the chemistry between us was so amazing. But it was so funny that I was barely walking.”

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.