Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Music review: Kings Of Leon - The Followill foursome don't do humour, but Mechanical Bull sounds promising
Monday 12 August 2013
“I'm proud to have done this here in London,” Caleb Followill announces at the end of a live-streamed, one-off set, the decision to bring the Tennessean foursome back to the UK proving inspired. Kings Of Leon only played a short arena tour in June, yet selecting a theatre tiny in comparison cements the continuing warm affection between group and fans that the singer rarely fails to remind have been with them the longest.
This more bijou stage plays to the group's hard-rocking strengths, negating the drawbacks of their static stage manner and short-range charisma. Band members have hinted at fall-outs in recent years, though tonight they grin broadly, guitarist and cousin to the three brothers Matthew proving the most giddy as he plays with his teeth during "Closer". This comes early in a set trimmed of fat and heavy on ballsy crowd-pleasers.
As their stilted skits with Portlandia co-creating comedian and sometime drummer Fred Armisen in tonight's lead-up proved, the Kings don't do humour. Instead, they celebrate rock's more earthy virtues, with a cunning mix of down-home, southern grit and punk concision. "Sex On Fire" may be their biggest hit, yet the crowd are just as effusive in their response to "Pyro", from 2011's relatively bloodless Come Around Sundown, even if that and "Back Down South" feel like the group's usual fire have been leached from them.
Sixth album, Mechanical Bull, due next month, shows promise, though the guys only play two new numbers. Current single "Supersoaker" sees the band regain much of their previous swagger, retaining a light touch with - an odd reminder of more experimental moments - what sounds like a xylophone. By contrast, the repetitive descending chords of "Don't Matter To Me" are overly familiar, though the band give the new-wave riff renewed purpose.
Limited by Caleb's gruff-to-gravelly vocal range, the band still keep us interested over one and a half hours, with slow, swampy garage rock on "Crawl", the Thin Lizzy bad-boy thrill of "Four Kicks" and the frazzled lollop of "Black Fingernail". All that is missing is an Armisen cameo on drums, blowing gum as ferociously as Caleb does during "Knocked Up", but then no one's asking the Kings to do Comic Relief. They may struggle to acknowledge rock's daftness, though performing the dippy lyrics of "Sex On Fire" with serious, priapic intent makes them all the more endearing.
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