NEW YORK, NY—For the past two years, the Kings of Leon have been in the midst of what should be described as an evolutional stage. The first five years of their career were marked by the release of several remarkable albums that showcased their unique style—an irresistible tightrope walk between the energy of AC/DC and the inventiveness of The Pixies. But after the massive success of 2008’s Only By The Night, the Kings were thrust into the mega-spotlight of pop stardom, thus widening their fan base to the point where now both Brooklyn hipsters and ring-tone raised teens all heart the Kings of Leon. In the opinion of this longtime fan, the success is deserved, and frankly, long overdue. But a critical question, one that required time to pass before it could be answered, presented itself in the aftermath of the success of Only By The Night: how would massive success effect these one time indie darlings?
The answer presented itself at the Kings’ performance at Madison Square Garden, this time in support of their latest album, Come Around Sundown. After emerging onstage from behind pillows of red velvet smoke, the band—brothers Caleb, Nathan, and Jared Followill, along with their cousin Matthew Followill—launched into “Mary,” a simple and playful ode to marijuana, a slightly surprising opener, given the Kings propensity for building their sets upward with more atmospheric cuts from their catalog. The crowd even seemed blind-sided by the choice at first, but once they adjusted, the energy in the building heightened. It was perfect timing, actually, as the band progressed then into the throbbing pulse of “Crawl,” one of the Kings’ best tracks, and an absolute fan favorite.
The Followill clan has seemed to keep their recent fame in perspective, clearly never losing site of just what got them to the stature they’ve arrived at. The performance was as serious as it was fluid, with minimal posturing and seldom did singer Caleb address the crowd between songs, instead letting the music take center stage for the evening. However, when he did speak to the crowd, he showered the audience with praise and thanks, and it was a reminder that these boys from the South still remember who they are at heart.
From a fans’ standpoint, it was refreshing to see a band remain in tune with their strengths; solid songwriting and exceptional performing that connects with its audience in a way that is gratifying to the soul. Too many bands in recent past have suffered transitioning from moderately on-the-radar alterative acts into full-scale arena rockers because, more often than not, the larger than life U2-type profile becomes imitated and replicated, bearing stale results (see Coldplay). But, gratefully, the Kings of Leon instead aim to keep an even keel persona-wise, and let the songs stand on their own in their greatness.
Because of all this, a proportionately over the top pyrotechnic finale could be forgiven on this night at MSG, and it’s also the reason that the rattling off of hits like “Radioactive,” “Sex on Fire” and most obviously “Use Somebody” should not have inspired any eye-rolling from longtime fans or critics, as they were played before a sold-out crowd of ecstatic, yet mostly middle-of-the-road types. At this point in their careers, the Kings of Leon have proved that mega-stardom suits them well, especially because they wear it with such amazing grace.