Mix Lynyrd Skynyrd with a healthy dose of CBGB's and you've got yourself some Kings of Leon. Made up strictly of family members, this royal family from Tennessee has a misleading title -- they're actually more akin to princes. The man perched on the throne is their evangelical minister father/uncle -- drumroll please -- Leon. And Leon Followill's three sons and one nephew have converged to make the family surname approach the ubiquitous presence of those of their Southern kin the Allmans, Robinsons, and Doobies (okay, not the Doobies).
These would-be princes began their musical history in the churches where the real "king" Leon sermoned. But, there isn't much to suggest the ways of the cloth in their music, a hybrid of soaking wet garage-rock with straight-no-chaser twang and swagger. They seem to have more in common with that other Tennessee export, Jack Daniels, whose description of distillery ("charcoal mellowed") could be a synonym for their sound. It is in this history of the divine and the vagrant that the familial four brought their brand of "Holy Roller Novocaine" to Chicago's Double Door.
Nothing about this opening act proved to be numbing. Stepping onto the small stage, they looked like a younger version of the fictional Stillwater, i.e., Skynyrd with better cheekbones. Lead singer and guitarist Caleb Followill set the tone for the band with a straight-ahead march on prototypical songs like "Molly's Chambers" and "Wasted Time". Both incorporate a propulsive, simple groove that goes two and a half minutes without rest, all the while driven by the multi-faceted talent of bass player Jared Followill. Without much chatter throughout the 45 minute set, KOL were business-like with their set list, content to showcase the promise of their upcoming full-length Youth and Young Manhood. Most impressive was the sublime "California Waiting", a song that mixes the road-trip whimsy of "California Dreamin'" with the bittersweet memory of "Going to California", combining to form an original tribute to the Golden state. When Caleb Followill laments, "Can't I get back my lonely life," one can't help but think of the untold prescience that rests in that line. Judging by the impressive show they put on at the Double Door, the Followill princes will have no reason to be lonely in the coming year.
If you picked two names out of a hat you couldn't find more disparate tourmates than Kings of Leon and the headliner for the night, the Coral. To be sure, it resulted in an unnatural punch of Southern Garage and British Mirage. The six very young men that make up the Liverpool collection of the Coral came equipped with UK hype and perhaps the most famous hometown for a band in the world. Unfortunately, they proved to be much less exciting than the Fab Four. In fact, they sounded more like a retread of that famous American band, the Doors. With the keyboard psychedelia and jazzy drumming, it sounded far too much like Strange Days with Gaelic phrasing. While it is true that they each play their instruments with skill and vigor, the whole is certainly nothing greater than the sum of its parts. The singalong "Spanish Main" was really the only song to break free of Ray Manzarek's restraints to inject a healthy dose of soul into the room. But I suppose there's plenty of room for improvement for this group of (mostly) teenagers. Christ, when I was 18 I had a hard enough time going to class let alone a world tour. But the less-than-auspicious marathon set closer "Goodbye" proved to be too long a parting for me. I was ready to say "Hello" to more Kings of Leon.
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