The first time I heard about Kings Of Leon was at a lunch at some sushi joint in NYC with RCA's Bill Burrs and Robert English. Between bites of edamame and hand rolled sushi, Bill told us about some kids from Tennessee. Their dad was a pentecostal preacher and they used to drive all over the South listening to old rock & roll and R&B records. When they hit their late teens, the kids (three brothers and a cousin) formed a rock & roll band that fused all of their influences into a blistering brand of southern garage rock. The story is a great one, isn't it? That's a band bio that literally writes itself. Well, it's actually still being written. Since that lunch meeting way back when, Kings Of Leon have released a finely polished EP and two raw and gritty albums. They've toured the world. They're "huge in the UK". They just had a feature in the New York Times. I think it's safe to say their career is truly taking off. Uh, oh yea... and they're opening for U2 later this year!
Kings Of Leon rolled into Chicago on Thursday afternoon of last week after having driven all night, successfully making it across the border from Canada with no problems. Phew. After a slight rest, they headed over to Q101 for an on-air performance and to promote their show the following night at Metro - not that it needed it, as the gig had been sold out for weeks.
Last week was a great one for music in Chicago and the talk at shows all week long had been "are you going to see Kings Of Leon of Friday?". So the day of the show was an exciting one and anticipation was high. I furiously rushed to get my shit done by six, as Friday night's gig was an all ages one (meaning it started at 7) and I need to eat dinner and have a few pre-show drinks. When I finally made it to the venue, I had sadly missed opening act The Features. Having spent some time in Murfreesboro, TN (where the band used to play gigs at the bars surrounding the campus of MTSU), I was curious to see how far they've come. But alas, the amazingly slow waitress at the Goose Island Brewing Company foiled my plans.
My anguish was quickly turned to bliss as the house lights went down and the crowd, made up of a weird mix of high-school aged kids, older hipster types and neo-hippies, erupted into a deafening roar. Wasting no time, the band took the stage and burst right into "Molly's Chambers", the blues-inspired 8th track off the band's debut full length, Youth And Young Manhood. Looking like a mix between Skeletor and the main character from Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (but with longer hair, and uh... skin), frontman Caleb Followill commanded the stage in a nut-smashingly tight pair o' jeans, a wife beater and an old jersey that looked like it came from his 8th grade gym class. He and drummer/brother Nathan are the leaders of the gang and this came through on stage. Over the course of the evening, Caleb motioned to lead guitarist/cousin Matt to adjust the volume on his ridiculously solid guitar solos on a few different occasions. While Matt was a shoegazer, younger bro/bass player Jared was a ball of energy, bouncing around in skin-tight jeans that made you wonder if he had eaten a respectable meal since joining the band.
The crowd seemed most familiar with the songs off of Youth And Young Manhood, which is not surprising, as their latest effort, Aha Shake Heartbreak, was just released on February 22. Some of the crowd favorites were "California Waiting", "Red Morning Light", and their encore, "Spiral Staircase". "The Bucket", the band's first single from the new album, did get a sizable reaction from the crowd though, which was nice to see. Regardless of the many problems that alternative radio is having these days, it's still amazing to see just much of an impact support from radio can make for a young band.
Kings Of Leon have come a long way since the first time I saw them play for about 50 people at Schubas Tavern in early 2003. It was their first ever tour of the US and probably their first time north of the Mason-Dixon line. The bright eyed kids of two years ago are now well traveled road veterans ready to take on the world. Both their songwriting and their music reflect this coming of age and has earned them a lot of respect in my eyes. This band does things their way or no way at all and these days of cookie cutter rock outfits, that's to be admired.
Next stop... stadium shows and hanging out with Bono.
Source: Matt DuFour (photos by Myranda Zarlengo-Vargas)