Friday, July 23, 2010
Concert Review: Kings of Leon @ Fiddler's Green Amphitheater, 7/20/2010
Thanks to my lovely girlfriend Meg, I had the chance to see Kings of Leon this week at Fiddler's Green (or Comfort Dental Amphitheater, as it will heretofore not be called). I've been relatively familiar with Kings of Leon for a while now, but I'd never gotten into their music much past the singles from their last two albums, so I was looking forward to hearing their music in a different setting than contemporary radio.
I've always felt that Kings of Leon are one of the more unique rock bands to gain mainstream success in the last few years. Their 2007 effort, "Because of the Times," gained considerable success overseas, while the more recent "Only by the Night" (2008) employed a more mainstream rock sound that granted them larger recognition in the States. Some longtime fans found this move somewhat alienating, seeing the more accessible approach as a kind of sellout for radio play. Granted, "Only by the Night" did and does receive a great deal of radio time, but this has never bothered me much. It's not a sin for a band to seek a wider audience as long as the material is still strong, which I felt it more or less was.
That said, I've consistently been bothered by KoL's album sound. Across the board, the band's albums suffer from poor mixes that make the music feel much weaker than it should. In studio, KoL seems more or less content to undercut their guitars in favor of upmixed drum tracks and cranked vocals. Unfortunately, this trend really doesn't suit the group's talents. Lead singer Caleb Followill tends to put a great deal of energy into his vocals, and while he's certainly competent, his tendency to miss notes is somewhat amplified by loud volumes.
I was pleased, however, to discover that these issues are virtually nonexistent on the live stage. The band opened Tuesday's show with the quasi-industrial chugger "Crawl," which happens to be one of my personal favorites of theirs. I was instantly surprised and pleased by the aggressiveness and power with which the band played. Drummer Nathan Followill (they're all Followills, three brothers and a cousin) competently lead the group around most of the songs, as he does on album, but more noticeable was the force behind guitarist Matthew Followill's riffs. These simply blasted from the first moment, making an instant and substantial improvement on a good repertoire that simply begs to be performed live.
From here, Kings of Leon moved into a diverse selection of their career's work, sampling from their earliest albums, "Youth & Young Manhood" and "Aha Shake Heartbreak." Songs like "Slow Night, So Long" and "Immortals" provided a glimpse into territory that was, for me, entirely unknown. I was impressed by these early entries, as much by their actual quality as by the band's decision to fill a good portion of their setlist with older material. From there, the band played their obligatory hits "Sex on Fire" and "Notion" to great effect, and to the great pleasure of the night's enthusiastic crowd. After a short setbreak, KoL played mega-hit "Use Somebody" before closing with the excellent "Black Thumbnail," which served as an powerful bookend to an extremely entertaining night.
While their new work differs from their earlier material, their entire catalogue is bound together by its visceral, gut-level impact. To enjoy Kings of Leon, one must try not to think too much; their music hits low and fast, with all the frenetic energy befitting a great rock show. While each member contributed a great deal of intensity, Caleb Followill provided a passionate focal point for the entire experience. He sings with a reckless abandon that few modern singers dare to approach, boosted by the increased instrumental power that the band demonstrated all night. The man simply bellows every line, and rock fans should be more than willing to listen.