[11 December 2008]
This sold out show was a big night for Kings of Leon. Besides the Orpheum being full to capacity, the fans filling the seats went absolutely insane for practically every song they played. If they weren’t shaking their asses to the danceable riffs, they were swooning to the epic builds or belting out the sometimes lovelorn, sometimes sexed-up lyrics. And all of that energy was reciprocated by the foursome onstage. Although it would be a stretch to say the three Followill brothers and their cousin were hams or “rockin’ out” in the traditional sense, they plowed through a total of 22 songs with alternating hints of ease and bombast. The group’s live sound also displayed the musical transition made obvious by their latest release, Only by the Night. Their Southern-influenced garage rock has morphed into an arena-sized sound that translates into one hell of a performance.
The evening began promptly with a quick set by Athens, Georgia’s the Whigs, who played a Southern-influenced garage rock set that the headliners might have performed a few years ago. Resembling dirty rockers from the “alt-rock” days of the ‘90s, the trio’s raunchy, noisy songs were met with cheers of approval from the early birds beginning to fill the theatre.
We Are Scientists hit the stage next and, unfortunately, their set failed to live up to expectations based off past concerts. With only two members of the original trio left, the band featured a new drummer—who was timid in comparison to former skins-man Michael Tapper—as well as a keyboard/synth player. Neither brought more than their passable skills to the table, though, which was a shame since bassist Chris Cain and guitarist/lead singer Keith Murray tried their damnedest to keep the set interesting. But the crowd was less than open to the idea of mid-song chatter anyway, so the guys focused on letting their music speak for itself. The more epic tracks off their latest album, Brain Thrust Mastery, like “Impatience” and “After Hours”, two very arena-friendly cuts, had some audience members swaying. Nearly everyone remained seated, though, even for the more upbeat and danceable “Let’s See It” and “Chick Lit”, the latter being one of Brain Thrust Mastery‘s best. Luckily for the band and those of us watching, the pace picked up with the likes of “It’s a Hit” and “Inaction”, two catchy-as-hell cuts off With Love and Squalor. The two biggest hits were “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt”, a high-energy rug-cuttin’ anthem, and “The Great Escape”, which closed out their performance. As enjoyable as We Are Scientists are in a more intimate venue, their sound was lost in this theatre setting with only ten or so people on their feet during the set.
When Kings of Leon were about to come out, the feeling in the theater changed greatly. Everyone from teens to middle-aged couples to hipster 20-somethings all hopped to their feet and began cheering. Fans were standing on their chairs, dancing, and going crazy before a note was even hit. When the band finally appeared they eased into “Closer”, a fitting opener for a set filled with highs, lows, and everything in between. Bursting lights transitioned the Followill’s into “Crawl” and “My Party”, the former setting the stage for the stadium-sized tracks we would hear, such as “Molly’s Chambers”, which was absolutely huge. Even though the crowd was clearly into it, and that is a gigantic understatement, the mood differed from “let’s swoon to some ballads” to “let’s just dance.”
The pace slowed for “Milk”, a track that my friend called “grating” due to frontman Caleb’s vocals, but it sounded surprisingly great live. Outside of the studio, Caleb’s voice is much stronger than you might think. He still throws out those raspy tones for the older cuts, but he is no longer just spitting out scratchy lyrics. After this lull, the Kings then kicked out the jams for “Four Kicks” and “The Bucket”, the latter of which is way too fun for its own good. “McFearless”, a cut accentuated by brother Nathan’s fantastic drumming, kept the blood flowing and had everyone belting out the larger-than-life chorus.
No one noticed the crowd’s enthusiasm more than Caleb, who commented several times throughout the night how grateful he was that all of us were dancing, singing, or at least nodding along. Although it’s customary for a frontman to say those sorts of things, he made a good point. We were in a theater with assigned seating, and neither of those factors make for the most high-energy show, but after a quick scan of the audience, every fan was on their feet. They remained standing for “Use Somebody” and the clear crowd favorite “On Call”. The Tennessee boys then ripped into the epic and gorgeous “Cold Desert” before “ending” the night with an ass-kicking take on “Slow Night, So Long”.
Like any concertgoer knows, this performance was far from over. The quartet crept back out to tear through several more songs, and the show could have easily kept going until security booted us all out. After 22 songs, and nearly two hours, the band’s dedication to their fans was evident in the mere fact that the band didn’t just play their latest album and walk backstage. Instead, we were treated to what could be best described as an arena-sized Southern-rock workout—sweat and all.