Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Kings of Leon

As a cynical, snobby music fan here’s a question I rarely ask in any sort of positive context. So when did music get to where it is in the UK now? I can't figure it out. When did cool rock bands start becoming such mass market attractions? And how come a great band like Kings of Leon could sell out London's Wembley arena, and damn near blow the roof off it?

Some where along the line the three brothers and a cousin from Nashville, that started the bluesy rock band, have quietly and steadily morphed into superstars, with a number one single and album this year. And I think it's great.

For one thing it reassures me of the great desire by the British public to still want to hear songcraft, and see live performances and sincerity in music again. Despite the continued success of shows like X Factor, there also a real love of 'bands', with their own ideas, concepts and stories to tell. That is certainly something the mega-success of acts like Muse, Radiohead or Coldplay have proven recently. It is a strange thought for someone my age, but it occurres to me that the Foo Fighters have probably played significantly bigger headlining shows than Nirvana ever did, for example.

Another thing that comes with this is a younger generation who will see those sorts of bands as being too middle of the road – conformist and safe. Well that's great too, because that sort of reaction creates edgier, challenging art at an underground level. But the most amazing thing that struck me about the Kings Of Leon show is, they still rock too.

Yeah, the sound has changed a bit, matured, maybe even mellowed, which might offend the purest and hardcore fans of the first records. It might even pout off the more avant-garde rock fans in general (I can actually hear the sound of Danis shaking his head at me!) but there is still an edge present here. And even though personally I think the new tracks are bigger, more anthemic, and tailor made for this environment, it was actually the older songs the crowd really went wild for, in fact they only played three from the latest record.

Just a week earlier at the O2, I'd witnessed Chris Martin urging the crowd to sing along, asking for noise and challenging the them to raise the roof - KOL simply didn't have to. Singer-guitarist Caleb Followill barely said a word, his fragile lilting voice hit everyone in there square in the chest, and they sang along to every word.

There were some minimal visuals, but absolutely no pomp, no confetti, no stage theatrics, nothing but four guys and their instruments singing songs from their hearts. The crowd's passion and will for more was infectious. I've been to numerous shows this year and the "encore" was as genuine as I've seen in a long time.

For some reason the Kings of Leon haven't quite been taken to the hearts of their native America with the same gusto just yet, but here in the UK, we love it. Each track was greeted with thunderous applause and recognition.

And then at the end of the evening, with barely a word, just a tiny, shy wave, they left. Understated, passionate and genuine. And people buy into it.

Viva rock n' roll.

3 comments:

fred said...

KOL is an amazing band in so many ways. I've seen them live four or five times, most recently last summer at Le Zenith in Paris. Caleb is a rock star in the traditional 70s rock star way. And I love him for it. I agree that the first two records were their best (isn't it always that way these days), but their new stuff will make them a mainstream success and good for them.

Matt Dollinger said...

Kevin,

couldn't agree with you more about KOL. They have done a number of shows here in Chicago and are consistently received with amazing listener love. What I thought about when reading your post was the Authenticity of their music and of the band. I'm rereading Authenticity at the moment and this hit home. No pomp, no fluff, as you said just a couple of guys blowing their hearts out. Maybe the true music listeners out there are looking for this and those that want top 40 are wanting the ultimate Disney factor? I don't know but thoroughly enjoyed the post.

P.S. Another band that I love right along the same lines are The Whigs (not Afghan whigs!)

Matt Dollinger
The You Factor
www.TheYouFactor.com

Ryan Moede said...

Great to see KOL getting the love and respect they deserve.

Ryan Moede
www.socialmediaworx.com