Kings of Leon's set at the Pageant last night wasn't just a stark reminder of the band's consistency as a live act. It also showcased the depth of band's back catalog: The quartet blazed through 21 songs from its four full-length albums during a 90-minute set. The good news is that Kings of Leon still seems to thoroughly enjoy launching into crowd-pleasing older tunes as much as it relishes the challenge of playing its newer, sonically dense material as well.
The Kings were, as one good friend aptly put it, "all business" last night as it blazed through six songs before word one was uttered to the respectfully attentive and marginally energetic crowd. The band members aren't much for stage spectacle or pandering to lowest common denominator rock show antics, but they definitely know how to play -- and often fall so far into their groove that it seems for a moment like the song is dragging. In reality, the band just knows how to lay back in the pocket and create an expressive feel.
Kings of Leon, "Use Somebody" (live on Jools Holland)
From the first echo-laden guitar bleeps and arena-sized snare drum blasts of "Closer" (the first track on the band's latest album, Only By the Night) the Followill boys were in superb form. A swampy green backdrop added to the eerie moodiness of the opening song's almost Cure-like shadowy mystery and distant, spacious percussion explosions. The slow-rolling wave-lengths of Jared Followill's distorted bass tone washed over the audience during the beginning groove of second song "Crawl," a sound perfectly accented by Nathan Followill's muscular, deliberate drumming. Lead vocalist Caleb Followill's voice sounded fittingly raspy and crushingly emotive. It's a voice that always sounds desperate and near collapse but never really is. This is just where the singer's vocal range comfortably resides - on the very edge of seeming disaster. It makes for great theater.
The band didn't linger in arena-sized, shoegaze-inspired bliss for long, though, ripping into several choice cuts from Youth and Young Manhood ("Molly's Chamber's") and 2005's Aha Shake Heartbreak including "Razz," "Taper Jean Girl" and "King of the Rodeo." These bouncier rockers brought the crowd to life and proved that at least most of the fans at the show were definitely not Johnny-come-latelys to the band's sweetly southern-tinged rock bombast.
Other highlights included the haunting spaciousness and abstract word painting of "Milk" and the epic noise-bursts and ethereal reverb-drenching of "Use Somebody," which featured battle-cry background vocals from all four members of the band and a good three quarters of the audience. A stirring rendition of Night's power-ballad-esque "Cold Desert" was even more moving live than in its recorded form. Caleb's deeply personal laments and the slowly deliberate, floating tempo were maybe lost on the anxious, party-going crowd but the song was nonetheless one of the band's best performances of the night.
After the marathon, eighteen-song main set, the band came back for one encore which included an epic version of "Knocked Up" from 2007's Because of the Times. The final song of the night -- Pixies-homage "Charmer" -- mercilessly trudged forward on the solid shoulders of Jared and Nathan's rhythm section lockdown, Matthew's raunchy, buzzing guitar riffage and Caleb's maniacal voodoo screams. Once again, the Kings proved that its power is truly all in the family.
Setlist: 1. Closer 2. Crawl 3. My Party 4. Razz 5. Molly's Chambers 6. Taper Jean Girl 7. King of the Rodeo 8. Sex on Fire 9. Fans 10. Revelry 11. Milk 12. Four Kicks 13. The Bucket 14. True Love Way 15. Use Somebody 16. On Call 17. Cold Desert 18. Slow Night, So Long encore 1. Knocked Up 2. Manhattan 3. Charmer
-- Shae Moseley