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Kings Of Leon At Madison Square Garden, Friday, January 20th, 2017, Reviewed


The bar is so low for modern rock and roll that if you don’t suck and whine like a bitch in heat, or Davey Havok, you are halfway home. Really, if you can write a tune and add a tasty lick they will come. That is certainly true of Kings Of Leon. I wrote this in 2010: “They are the definition of an opening band who got lucky. They look like they need a wash, they move little, insulated on a huge stage they don’t take advantage of, they neither reach out to the audience nor each other. Fuck, I saw Kaiser Chiefs here and they could teach em a thing or two. And Caleb’s few words connect exactly once: “I’m gonna get drunk up here because that’s what I do.” Seven years later and they haven’t learnt a damn thing. They are a band without the slightest idea how to sell a song. Their idea of Arena rock is to make the stage even deeper after an acoustic set and why? To add a keyboard player. The only singalong I heard was that “don’t say it’s over…” one.

Still, musically they are OK. If all you know is “Sex On Fire” I can understand why you are giving me funny looks, but really the songs are pretty good: one sturdy riff after another, with an almost self-effacing lack of histrionic chest thumping and over reaching soloing, they just stand behind Cal and let him do his thing. And his thing is a Heathcliffian glimmering anger where he can scowl through such boilerplate endearments as “We’re gonna have a good time tonight” while we obviously may have many things tonight but one of them ain’t a good time. Cal is a scary brooder. Many years ago (I mean many: 1980) I worked in a bar on 39th and 3rd, and picked up a model, a beautiful woman well out of my league. I managed two dates before she realized what I knew from the start and stopped returning my calls. Anyway, maybe a year later I am having lunch nearby at “Sarge’s” and I see her with this stunningly handsome man, and when he gets up I walk over to say hello. “Go away, go away” she hisses at me. Eh? “Go before he gets back.” And up close she has lost her swagger, she looks tight, nervous, tired… The guy was vastly better looking than me, but he was a  timebomb difficult to please or read and given to explosions of anger and occasional violence, and the model now has a wince and a quiet tenseness she never had before. The guy was equal parts insecure and egotistical, a misogynist who used his good lucks to bully and intimidate women. Cal looks like that, you can’t enjoy him because he doesn’t look at though he is having a good time. His presence is all tense attitude.

Kings Of Leon are, given our time and place in the universe, a pretty good rock band. The set was full of goodies dating from as early as 2003 (the terrific “So Long, So Late”) to last years WALLS (a solo Cal on the title track was very good) but they are supremely unenjoyable. They note that their family from Alabama is in the audience so you’d think… I dunno, they’d appear to be happy with the situation and they aren’t. I was very close to the stage and I maybe, maybe not, saw Nathan crack a smile… I’m not promising but maybe. So maybe they need to work from a certain level of intensity that doesn’t allow for a good time being, in fact, a good time. Or, one more, maybe they are bullies.

Grade: C-

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