Kings of Leon deliver royal performance

Jeff Yerger

In 2005, I saw U2 on the Vertigo Tour at what was then the Continental Airlines Arena in New Jersey. My seats were in section 111, row 14: just to the left of the stage. U2 was yet again on the verge of taking over the world as the biggest band in rock, and anyone who got in their way was crushed.

As I looked at my ticket, I saw that the poor souls who were opening for U2 were the Kings of Leon. I had heard a lot of hype about these long-haired guys from Tennessee, but on that big stage they seemed lost and insignificant.

Four years later, I found myself at what is now the Izod Center, in the exact same section and row, but the name on my ticket in big bold letters was Kings of Leon, who are on their first arena tour in the United States to support their smash hit album “Only By The Night.” This time around, I saw a confident band in their prime, playing a versatile setlist with great prowess and emotion.

Kings of Leon have grown up a lot physically and musically since 2005. Their hair is shorter and they’re clean-shaven, resembling the clean-cut music they’ve been making recently. Their third full-length album, “Because Of the Times,” took everyone by surprise, as they gained a more mature and expansive sound. The album is a classic, but unfortunately it didn’t blow up in the states as much as it did in the U.K. Now, with this year’s hit rock album, “Only By The Night,” America is finally falling in love with songs like “Sex On Fire” and “Use Somebody.”

All the years of touring with the likes of Bob Dylan, Pearl Jam and U2 have helped KoL form a confident, on-stage swagger. Now that they have an arena-headlining tour to call their own, and a hit album to boot, Kings of Leon show who are the real kings of rock and roll.

After opening with the dark trance of “Closer,” KoL launched into a rollicking rendition of “Crawl,” both from their recent album.

It was as triumphant an opening as ever, for this night and this tour can be viewed as one big victory lap for the Kings. “It’s such a thrill for us to be here,” frontman Caleb Followill told the audience. When referring to KoL’s sudden success in the U.S., all he had to say was, “It’s about time!” The new songs fit well among their older stuff, and some even produced massive sing-a-longs, especially the soaring choruses of “Sex On Fire” and “Use Somebody.”

Although the new material made up the majority of the set (they played nine of the 11 songs off their new album), the highlights of the show were really during the older songs. Songs like “Four Kicks,” “Charmer,” “Molly’s Chambers” and “Slow Night, So Long” were loud and ferocious, taking on a whole new life in a large arena venue.

To the delight of many long-time fans, KoL even played deep cuts like “Soft,” “Trani” and “Knocked Up,” the latter of which got the crowd singing so loud that after the song was over Followill said, “I haven’t heard a sing-a-long like that to that song in a long time. I guess you guys have more than just the last record, huh?”

What was unique about this concert was that the band seemed to genuinely feed off the crowd as much as the crowd fed off the band. It’s not everyday you see that sort of special interaction, and even though the Izod Center isn’t the best of venues, Kings of Leon held nothing back and played as if they were playing at the Royal Albert Hall.

They finished the show with a slower, bluesy version of “Black Thumbnail,” as if to remind fans that even though they’ve made it to the mainstream, KoL can still kick it like no one else.

This band is the saving grace of rock and roll, and they proved it that night. What separates KoL from the rest of the pack is the soul they have in their music. Put that along with an energetic live show, and you have one powerhouse of a band.