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Kings of Leon + Jet + 22-20s

Kandia Crazy Horse
Kings of Leon + Jet + 22-20s

Kings of Leon + Jet + 22-20s

City: New York
Venue: Bowery Ballroom
Date: 2003-09-10

Kings of Leon
Jet
Rock of Ages The eve of 9/11 (slight return). Panic in the streets of Gotham. All praises to the holy soul and jelly roll of rawk. At the Bowery Ballroom, there's so many poses but not one good shag. Alas, no coif as magnificent as the late Mick Ronson's. If you venture into town these days on the boogie express you're liable to think it's 1970. Inescapable, when a bill of three -- Kings of Leon, Jet and 22-20s -- all vie to sound like the Flaming Groovies. From the git-go, with brushfire reverently whispering about "sons of a Pentecostal preacher man" and "the redneck Strokes" igniting the land, it was inevitable that I, eternally on a grail quest for all things Bubba -- a twang Templar, if you will -- should clamor to catch Kings Of Leon's act. Alas, the Nashville family quartet did not quite deliver on the promise trumpeted by my dear orgiastic colleagues across the Pond. Of course, the pandemonium unleashed when the Followills -- Nathan (drums/vocals), Jared (bass), Caleb (vocals/guitar) and cousin Matthew (lead guitar) -- casually strolled onstage not too long past 11 p.m. was already palpable upon arrival outside the Ballroom where two shiny, metallic tour buses stood as sentinels signaling to an amped-up sexdrugsanrockanroll crowd. If early openers 22-20s failed to make much of a dent in the suppressed air of excitement inside the hall, it was not entirely their fault. Why? They were hardly the most exciting band ever, yet it would be difficult on the best of days to compete with the rabid "Mile High Club" members present for Melbourne, Australia four-piece Jet. Many amongst this crowd who swarmed to the front of the house when the 22-20s and the stage crew were breaking down even seemed to have Commonwealth written on their countenances, suggesting they'd flown in from Down Under or at least London to show undying support. Indeed, although this gig was very much an extension of Kings of Leon's meteoric ascent, the pinnacle of their Stateside coronation, Jet may well have received the most keen attention of the evening, almost stealing the show out from under the headliners. Perhaps it was because their presence and the degree of giddiness Jet provided was so unexpected for all those come to scent the blood of the newly anointed young rock 'n roll royalty. Jet were something of a bait-and-switch in and of themselves, beginning with the fact that their drummer, Chris Cester, who has the attitude, incoherent speech and air of a hot version of Shane McGowan, started out at the mic. It was more than easy for the uninitiated to assume he was the vocalist: he had the lanky swagger, jutting hip bones, suitably alliterative name, elegantly bony face and scraggly hairstyle expected of rock frontmen at least since the heyday of the Faces (Chris Robinson could easily pass for his Dixie cousin once-removed). Cester sang "Move On" and "Come 'Round Again", two acoustic songs, well enough to hold interest and summon the ghosts of the Glimmer Twins when they were under the country honk sway of Gram Parsons. The drony, virtual Witchseason-meets-The Corral quality of these tunes then abruptly morphed into the monster riffs and unsubtle blues of a big sky country blue-collar band. Real lead singer Nic Cester (who could pass for the Gallagher Bros.' much better-looking cousin), appearing as if he wandered in from the auditions for some fey Brit-rock band, suddenly unfettered his inner Peter Frampton and Randy Bachman...and almost turned Hyde as Joe Walsh of the James Gang. This is another brotherhood band; expect notorious brawls ahead. Cester the Elder's (Nic) lead dueling partner Cameron Muncey wailed away in response, for all that he looked as wan and frail as spawn of Cocker cohort Chris Stainton who'd been locked in the attic of some gothic abbey since 1973. Throughout, bassist Mark Wilson just above me alternated between fever twitchy and stoic. More than the Rolling Stones, who appear often enough as specter in their press (they've already opened for them), Jet are gleefully reminiscent of such mid-'70s radio staples as Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Foghat. And they seem to be succeeding at what the Delta 72 attempted on the deeper soul tip. They're not too original and wear their influences proudly on the rolled-up sleeves of their purloined pilot regalia, skinny scarves, and perfectly-worn denim flares, but Jet were still one of the best bands I have seen in ages. So fun they belong on a double bill with Nashville Pussy (and maybe could tango unscathed with Ruyter Suys). Just the kind of heavy outfit to meet the requirements of Jim Carrey's fat and wasted sub-Morrison alter ego from the MTV movie awards -- "Would it kill you to play a little Foghat once in a while?!" They understand rock 'n' roll and the changes that sonic commitment requires. Expect tabloid frenzy, lurid hotel trashings, rehab stints and Scandinavian rock wives a-plenty. Hopefully their new Elektra release Get Born is as much in touch with the primal as their live show. Jet sho'nuff revitalize the roll. "Take It Or Leave It" runs it down with concise clarity: You better roll with whatever you know / You better move / If you don't know what to do, here's the groove. I suppose it ain't so surprising to their Kings tour mates that them Aussies should have that high seventies rock thang down cold, from the country flourishes inspired by the Band to Muncey's flying-V theatrics. Kings of Leon seemed to enjoy Jet and no doubt appreciate their laser focus on the classics. In another age, the Allman Brothers Band -- who Kings of Leon sound NOTHING like...now Free and Steppenwolf, on the other hand... -- got pissed that the Limeys done took their blues and run, accepting the gauntlet thrown down by the Claptons and Jimmy Pages to reclaim their own hillbilly Africanism and rewrite history in process. As establishment rock chroniclers like Peter Guralnick do their bit to erase the Allmanian revolt from the official record while reaffirming the unlimited license of the Jaggers and Claptons to appropriate the blues, KOL probably see no other recourse but to heed the noisy call of such wholly American garage and proto-punk phenoms as the Seeds and the MC5. Still, the Followills have it easy; nothing to prove to anyone really except they own selves. Whether they like it or not, the execrable Strokes and the not too soulful White Stripes have paved the way for Kings of Leon to be huge stars, so long as the winds don't change. Their surprisingly short set did not quite get it with me, but seemed to steamroll right over the grasping audience (T-shirts visible: "The Who", "The Flying Burrito Brothers", "Ryan Adams Sucks"). At least for all the showy lead guitar riffs, straightforward punchy drums and dirty, drawled vocals that beg for fist-pumping and devil horns, KOL are nowhere near as pretentious and bankrupt as the hordes of "The" bands. An obnoxious and drunken groovy next to me quipped to his girlfriend, who was shooting for the NME, "I feel like I'm in Almost Famous." No space for mawkish sentimentality in KOL's tight ship nor the rock equivalent of Pollyannaisms, but there was a slight vibe, strongly ushered in by Jet's efforts, that diminished some of the glare of the 21st century concert-going experience. Harkening back to the era when "Keep On Truckin'" bumper stickers, 8-tracks and CB radio mania characterized Redneck Chic, the subdued energy of "Happy Alone", "Molly's Chambers" and "Spiral Staircase" wowed the crowd, yet were disappointingly and diametrically opposed to what one would expect from sons raised at revivals. Caleb Followill needs to decide on a persona with more gusto and flesh it out. Venerated cut "Holy Roller Novocaine" performed best live, peppered by one large, rude fanatic's calls of "Genius!" KOL played quite statically, like they were afraid of their bodies, such that the cries of sex that their press is awash in didn't tally (Nathan's the finest one...but you know what they say about drummers). [How can they be from the South and stay so goddamned skinny?! Don't they eat grits and some form of pork every day?] Most of Youth & Young Manhood is frankly baffling as issue from boys with cousins running 'shine stills and crank labs back up in the hollers of the mid-South. Nonetheless, I am happy my beloved Ethan Johns has a hit on his hands; perhaps his detractors will hush up now. The Followills do know how to wear their ironic tees -- Matthew's read "I survived Field Day" -- and pinwale cord trousers and make quirky fashion statements -- Jared somehow got away with white loafers after Labor Day. Their best song, "California Waiting", utterly obscured any drawl or down home veneer that may lurk in their compositional approach; it was likely the most perfect Golden State paean since Rufus Wainwright's directly Wilsonian "California". By the time the irritating Ben Kweller sat in on piano, evoking far more Ben Folds than Jim Dickinson, the majority of the room was in their sewed-on-the-ass pockets (no underwear). The sold out show with its hungry crush of New York rockbiz culture vultures -- a select group of whom sat almost comatose and inattentive in the balcony during "their boys'" set -- indicates the high-pitch demand. So perhaps it's not so much the Followills' fault that they have not matured yet into the act and artists a discerning rock public would devote itself to. They are not saviors and may yet be evolving in their transition to the Devil's music. I will not criticize them over much; the boys deserve their spread outside Nashville (having had an itinerant childhood, I sympathize), the obviously tidy amount of tour support RCA appears to be tossing after them and to sell many records while they can. Time will tell. If these much vaunted metrosexuals in Gotham and related satellites can stand to adopt the CCR look once popularized by John Fogerty and non-jam band stoners return above ground, the Kings of Leon might just become a way of life.

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