[For more photos of the Kings of Leon show and audience, make sure to check out Timothy Norris' slideshow.]
Last night, a gigantic family affair took place at the legendary Hollywood Bowl when three brothers and a cousin from Nashville invited 17,000 Angelenos over for a rock celebration. Southern siblings Caleb Followill on lead vocals, Jared Followill on bass, Nathan Followill on drums, plus cousin Matthew Followill on lead guitar, known collectively as Kings of Leon, shook the hills of tinseltown with a two-hour song parade well into the July night.
The Followill brothers grew up on the road, sons of a traveling preacher man. KOL mythology says they were all virgins until they became rock stars. True or not, one thing is certain: after two and a half years on the road supporting their multi-platinum 2008 LP Only By Night, Kings of Leon have definitely found their groove. Now they find themselves on the road again, under very different circumstances, playing their hearts out, singing of women, excess, sex, whisky, and … the devil?
Nashville heroes The Features and veteran Boise, Idaho rockers Built to Spill – long-time musical inspirations to the family Followill – opened the evening with short, solid sets that got everyone in the village eager and ready for the coronation of the Kings.
The Bowl was dark but illuminated by stretching pans of iridescent light and red smoke as the crowd anticipated the arrival of the quirky quartet. Starting off with “Crawl” from their monster album, KOL made the venerable venue pulsate in expectation. Caleb's passionate voice undoubtedly makes your skin crawl, in a good way. His raw and delicately mumbled intonation combined seamlessly with the urgent rhythm section. The foursome then transitioned into “Taper Jean Girl,” from their 2005 album Aha Shake Heartbreak. From the moment he opened his mouth, the sold-out crowd was hooked. As Caleb's remarkable, whiskey-toned voice rose and fell, cousin Matt's guitar spiraled into translucent, melodic riffs.
Stopping and peering into the vast, adoring crowd Caleb quipped, “We came on early for you guys tonight because we need to be off the stage by 11pm. We just need to soak up this experience!” It was obvious to even those seated in the furthest reaches of the Bowl back lawn that these country boys-turned-superstars were really having a blast performing on the same stage where The Beatles, Stones, Doors and other icons had played before them.
There were no lapses of energy in the well-paced set. Even slower songs like the hypnotic “Closer”, which Caleb wrote in a pain medication stupor after some minor surgery, took on an almost supernatural vibe. As the haunting bass married the tribal rhythm of the drums, the Bowl fell into a hush, an almost Shakespearean hush, the kind that Bard used to craft into a verse just after he'd dealt one of his poetic body blows: “Stranded in this spooky town/ Stoplights are swaying and the phone lines are down/this floor is crackling cold/She took my heart/I think she took my soul.” Caleb's emotional discharge was palpable. Seconds in, Caleb sounded less like he was singing and more like he was releasing eerily effervescent howls. When the outlandish moment of melodic epiphany arrived, he screeched, “And it's coming closer!” causing the amphitheater to erupt.
Through favorites like “My Party,” “On Call” and “Milk”, KOL played like a tight, taut rock machine. Their four record catalog reflects brave, heartfelt storytelling draped in deep seeded melodic harmonies, poetic vulnerability, personal loss, and human lessons.
And of course paying tribute to their radio endorsed hits “Sex On Fire” and “Use Somebody” they had everyone out of their seats and singing along. “Sex On Fire” has now taken on anthemic dimensions as you could barely hear Caleb's usually overpowering voice over the roaring crowd intoxicated by the song's infectious chorus.
These four Tennessee musicians blend both mainstream elements and southern post-classic rock into a melodiously eloquent materialization. And although, they have been pawned as sell-outs by certain nostalgic fans who don't appreciate the bands new, more conventional direction, or individuals who've heard “Sex on Fire” echoing one too many times through their car stereos, after tonight, it became clear that the only thing they sold out was the “Hollywood Fucking Bowl,” as Caleb exerted in exhilarating disbelief.