Kings of Leon, The Forum, London

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The Independent Culture

Dusty Springfield warned us how persuasive were the sons of preacher men. She recorded her song on the subject in Memphis, so it is fitting that this band from the same area contain three members that claim the same lineage.

Dusty Springfield warned us how persuasive were the sons of preacher men. She recorded her song on the subject in Memphis, so it is fitting that this band from the same area contain three members that claim the same lineage.

Kings of Leon arrived last year with a southern American Gothic tale that beggared belief: the three Followill brothers in the band had been brought up in the back of a car as their father toured revival meetings. After they settled down, the siblings called in cousin Matthew to provide slick guitar licks for a sound that married post-punk intensity to their native Tennessee's gospel-inflected rock.

Their approach brought instant dividends on the debut album Youth and Young Manhood. So, with a follow-up, Aha Shake Heartbreak, due out this week that threatens a more up-to-date sound, the Kings wisely began with a handful of earlier numbers. Since they swept to fame so quickly, early attempts to play theatres fell flat, but the band have spent much of the 16 months since their first record's release on the road. Here, they were taut and intense enough to show they had listened more to The Box Tops than the cosmic sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd or The Allman Brothers Band.

Such a performance made up for their dull stage presence. The band have still failed to learn to acknowledge the crowd, with singer Caleb anonymous between songs, bar an occasional drawl to taunt (unfairly) the perceived lassitude of a receptive London audience. The wide-eyed bassist Jared bounced around the stage, exchanging grins with Matthew, but otherwise the group failed to communicate their enthusiasm to the crowd.

The new material, though, took on a life of its own. Kings of Leon have dropped the stoner fuzz that made many older numbers sound flat in favour of spare arrangements and stronger riffs. On "Taper Jean Girl" you could hear The Libertines playing with discipline, while the current single "The Bucket" was greeted with the warmth usually reserved for crowd favourite "Molly's Chambers".

Matthew and Caleb's skeletal guitar figures allowed the rhythm section to come to the fore. Their fans may have been taken aback by the band's direction, but they were able to show appreciation by clapping along in "Radio Gaga" fashion to "Milk", with its dry New Order-esque guitar line.

Other new tracks were never going be easy for the fans to swallow. If the band's debut album was a celebration of tall tales from dive bars, its follow-up is a more analytical take on the road of excess. Not that anyone could understand Caleb's contorted hound-dog yowls. Also, little thought had been given to arranging their set. In the band's encore, the lounge-pop coda that ended the intense "Slow Night, So Long", a highlight from their new album, caused it to peter out in front of a bemused audience.

So much for saving the best for last. Some of Pa Followill's charisma may have rubbed off on his boys, but they still have a lot to learn about showmanship.

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