In Old Trafford Cricket Ground, one of Manchester’s premier gig venues, a band took to the stage that has endured a steady rise towards world greatness that has spanned nearly a decade. From their first album release in 2003, they have grown from the obscurities of alternative hillbilly blues rock music from the depths of Tennessee to one of the world’s best known recent bands, and their ascendancy shows no sign of diminishing. Tonight, an eagerly awaited crowd gathered to watch the phenomenon that is ‘Kings of Leon’.
Tickets were well in demand and all venues sold out instantly on this UK tour, showing just how popular this band from the American South have become. The atmosphere in and around Old Trafford mirrored that statement, as there was a certain buzz and anticipation in the air. The band has undergone severe changes in their journey, not only from the music itself, but also in their look and attitude. What started out as a band that sported extremely long hair and beards, with a perceived relaxed approach to ambition, has now turned into a cleaner, more modern indie look that sees them with the world at their feet. The first two albums of ‘Youth and Young Manhood’ and ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’ epitomised this early mindset, but with the 2007 release of ‘Because Of The Times’, followed by ‘Only By The Night’ and their latest album, ‘Come Around Sundown’, ‘Kings of Leon’ have developed a darker sound that remains unique and appeals to a wider audience.
On this special night, which saw them jump from The M.E.N. Arena to a venue more than twice the size in under a year, they were joined by two support acts. The first being fellow Tennessee rockers, ‘Mona’. Much like ‘Kings of Leon’, their name is derived from an elder relation. ‘Mona’ are a band that have certainly been brought up with similar influences to that of ‘Kings of Leon’, having a very similar sound to that of the headliners. It was clear why they were invited to join the UK tour, as they acted as a lighter warm up to what would be expected later on in the night, that hillbilly rock sound from the Deep South. They were in fine form too, playing songs that any Kings of Leon fan would stand up and take notice. ‘Mona’ won the ‘Brand New for 2011’ title at ‘The MTV Awards’, and on this evidence, I expect them to rise further into UK popularity. They have released three singles so far in the UK, ‘Listen to Your Love’, ‘Trouble on the Way’ and ‘Teenager.’ Their self titled album was released in the UK on 16th May 2011, and is highly recommended. From speaking to various people who attended the gig, ‘Mona’ highly impressed and I would go along with their accolade as being one to watch in 2011.
The second band supporting the show were ‘White Lies’, an indie English rock band from London. They have a very electro 80s feel, but darker and more upbeat, similar to that of ‘The Killers’, ‘The Bravery’ and ‘The Editors’. ‘White Lies’ have completed two albums and were once known as ‘Fear of Flying’, before a name change was made to enhance the bands darkness. They have enjoyed considerable success since 2008, having supported the likes of ‘Coldplay’, ‘Snow Patrol’ and ‘Glasvegas’, as well as embarking on NME tours, XFM’s Winter Wonderland festival and being nominated in several prestigious music awards for new bands. Their first album, ‘To Lose my Life’ topped the UK charts in 2009 and they were the first British act to do so in that year. Having become quite established in the UK, they were back once again supporting ‘Kings of Leon’, having done so previously on a US tour in 2009. The crowd gave them a warm reception, and by this time, the numbers inside the ground had considerably grown. ‘White Lies’ growing stature was evident by the die hards at the front singing along to the majority of the songs they performed. Maybe in time, they can take that extra step and become one of the UK’s best bands. On this evidence, they certainly have a solid fan base.
With the two support acts now completed, it wasn’t long before the three brothers and cousin, namely, Caleb Followill (lead singer/rhythm guitar), Nathan Followill (drums/backup vocals), Jared Followill (bass) and Matthew Followill (lead guitar) would take the stage and blow us away.
Typically, they arrived to rapturous applause and high pitched screams, starting with three songs from their earlier years, ‘Four Kicks’, ‘Taper Jean Girl’ and ‘The Bucket’. What I observed quickly was how great Caleb Followill’s voice was. Many people could have been forgiven for thinking he was miming the songs because he was so accurate to what was actually recorded and released, a very difficult skill and quality to have.
This was followed by songs off their latest album, ‘Radioactive’ and ‘Immortals’, which sounded just as haunting as the recorded version with it’s superlative guitar work. ‘My Party’ was sandwiched in between, which was off the ‘Because of the Times’ release. What became clear was this electric chemistry between the band. Everything was flowing unhinged in total perfection as every band member contributed to the show, with the ghost like bass lines, loud and smooth riffs and perfectly timed drumming. The crowd were singing passionately along, and one fan next to me, actually collapsed to the ground, falling like a chopped down tree after fainting. It was probably more drink and drug induced, but I like to think that he was completely mesmerised by the performance. The crowd itself was such a mixture of ages, gender, backgrounds and styles, providing further evidence of ‘Kings of Leon’s’ widespread appeal, many being from a post ‘Sex on Fire’ era, mainly women who finally realised Caleb’s own sex appeal after shaving and cutting his hair. The crowd continued to go wild when highly regarded classic ‘Fans’ was performed.
By this time, we were nearing half way, and with the weather holding up and remaining rather warm, they launched into new softer rock ballad, ‘Back Down South’. I noticed in the backdrop to the stage the sun beginning to set, and this created a startling picturesque sight, one that would look appropriate at ‘Red Rocks’. The sun illuminated the sky and clouds above and beyond the stage into a bright romantic orange that fitted so perfectly to the song being played, considering it was from the album, ‘Come Around Sundown’. It was as if the gods of rock were smiling and showing their own appreciation for a performance that was forever gathering momentum, as well as keeping the promised rain at bay.
Caleb spoke to the crowd emphasising his love and appreciation for being here, stating that the band didn’t have many dates left in England, “so we’re just gonna cut loose if that’s alright with you?” He hailed the Manchester audience, speaking honestly, “I know I say this a lot, but I really am having a truly great time,” further going on to say that the audience was one of the best he’d experienced. This was testament to the northern attitude to music. Not only was this a gathering of Mancunians, but from hearing many people talk around me, it was clear that this was a culmination of the North West and Yorkshire that had gathered for this event, both being areas rich with musical history and good music taste. In his humbleness, he thanked the crowd for their continued support, stating that if it wasn’t for us, they’d still be “painting houses.” I disagreed with this. They didn’t have to thank us for launching them to their current status; it was all their own doing, we should thank them!!
The show continued and the sound persisted to be perfect; loud and blowing ‘us’ away, leaving the crowd spellbound. A mixture of songs from different albums followed, but the energy failed to cease as songs such as ‘Pyro’, ‘California Waiting’ and early classic, ‘Molly’s Chambers’ were belted out, and the dancing and singing became louder and more apparent. The final song was announced and it was clear which one it would be, and this sparked riot like scenes and complete madness as they launched into fans favourite, ‘Sex on Fire.’, with the whole venue bouncing up and down, screaming their hearts out, ending to typical applause. After a brief break and chants for more songs, they returned for an encore to finish with ‘Knocked Up’, ‘Manhattan’, legendary hit, ‘Use Somebody’ and finishing with the cool “in your face” attitude track, ‘Black Thumbnail,’ fading out to a blistering firework display as the crowd applauded effervescently, screaming and cheering as the band exited the stage. It was evident that we had just seen a band that had probably just announced to the world that they really mean business; continuing their way to becoming one of the true greats of rock music, possibly the best out of the bands formed this century, and I’m sure the audience would consider the show an epic and unforgettable event.
They could even afford to miss out great songs from the set, such as ‘Trani’, ‘Revelry’, ‘Arizona’ and ‘The Face’, etc etc etc, and it still didn’t affect the overall performance, a sign of a band with a lot of ammunition in its arsenal.
Many claim that ‘Kings of Leon’ have sold out, ever since the release of their first UK No. 1 hit ‘Sex on Fire’, and a change in their appearance, but I disagree. Yes, their sound has become slightly different, but isn’t that just part of a maturing attitude, a gaining of experience and a natural progression of life? Did The Beatles sell out when they went from a clean cut, suit wearing, placid rock band, to a long haired, moustache sporting, psychedelic clothe wearing, drug induced hippy band of the ‘Sgt Peppers’ era, which gained them recognition as producing one of the greatest albums of all time? It’s actually a breath of fresh air that in today’s music climate a band actually gets a chance to grow their fan base and are around long enough to diversify, even to the delight of the most ardent of fans. The smash hit of ‘Sex on Fire’ was that good, it made thousands of people outside their usual following stand up and take notice, and because the hit was huge, some people label them as selling out. They are in a no win situation. Bands usually strive to be as big as they can, and the early followers support this goal, but when they achieve it, some of these fans state that they have ‘sold out’.
Despite this debate about whether or not they have ‘sold out’, ‘Kings of Leon’ still have a special quality about them, that has not faltered in their tenure. The music and songs have always remained excellent and in my opinion, as an early ‘Kings of Leon’ fan from my University days, the albums as a whole have just got better and better. What makes them so special is not necessarily the sounds of the band in general. They are undoubtedly hugely talented musicians with some excellent guitar riffs that can send you into an emotional distant daze because of its dark overtures and atmosphere. The key is the highly unique and raw voice of Caleb Followill, which emulates the rest of the band’s mood. His voice has a kind of hoarse huskiness that oozes a tremendous amount of power and sex appeal, which can make any female fan succumb to his charm. His screams sound strangled like, yet charming and eloquent in some surreal way, but it fits perfectly to the band’s style. It’s uncommon to hear such unique power in this day and age, as it was this type of voice and scream that made the legendary front men of the 60s and 70s. It’s rare to find a voice that is so extensively different to anyone else’s of their generation, but Caleb is one that is blessed with such a gift.
Prior to two or three years ago, their progress had been slow, but measured, not like the likes of ‘Oasis’, whose first album had instant success, recognition and fame. ‘Kings of Leon’s’ albums seem to get better and better with age and they don’t appear to be faltering. At the very least, they remain constant, but that steady rise has now turned into swift superiority. Not only that, they have demonstrated their pulling power, being able to sell out large venues quickly and deliver beyond expectation, sounding as close to the recorded version as any band I’ve ever known. Their latest album is titled, ‘Come Around Sundown’, but ironically, the sun is very much in a rapid rise on their future. I look forward to their future albums and shows and hope they continue to ride the wave.
Taper Jean Girl
Back Down South
Sex On Fire