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Kings Of Leon, Madison Square Garden, Friday, February 14th, 2014, Reviewed

Introverted Kings Of Leon

Introverted Kings Of Leon

















Valentine’s Day and all you’d expect the audience to be a surfeit of twenty something second job guys shooting back shots of Southern Comfort and beer, puking on their best friends and passing out in the middle of “Down South” but you’d be wrong. Not many couples, that’s true, but a heck of a lot of girls together in groups, cursing the men who left them alone on the loneliest day of the year and dreaming about a physical relationship with the rehabbed and married Caleb Followill.

That being the case, they got a perfect concert for their money; a concert that repaid multitasking with their friends with a song they recognized every ten minutes or so. As for the rest of us, the problems I detailed in 2010 -how deadly it is to have an introvert as your lead singer and how difficult it is to play Arena rock for even the best of rock bands, remains pretty much in tact. But with a sound a natural for a place the magnitude of Madison Square Garden, an alternative rock Confederate white trash drawl connected to hard rock singalongs,  the songs can really snap into place and Friday night they had an accumulative power. An early “Temple”, a mid concert “Supersoaker” and a late “Trani” were melodic, high strung Arena alt rock. Even “Down South” wasn’t Southern boogie. There was a tightness to their sound, improvs were kept to the minimum, and uncluttered melodic attack highlighting the least embarrassing lyrics possible  for a band whose biggest hit was “Sex On Fire”.

The problem is a toughness in connecting with their audience, and with this, the fourth time I’ve seen them live, I don’t believe it is the arrogance of, say, the young Oasis. Perhaps married life has softened the band, the growing old, the changing of the guard, and the world’s hostilities, the relatively low sales volume of the pretty good Mechanical Bull, the hit and miss rate on their own songs. I dunno. But while they still seem way too distanced, they don’t have the stench of arrogance any more.

Kings Of Leon appear to at least try to put on a more than a here we are now, Matthew (the cousin) plays the huitar with his teeth at one point and though it was the most boring teeth playing you’ve ever seen, it is the thought that counts, and during the last song before the encore the band found a groove for maybe the third time that night and nailed it good.

The thing is, Kings Of Leon stance on stage might be considered distracted and enervating but it might be considered self sufficient and respectful. Caleb never leads the audience by the hand, on his biggest songs he never comes close to promoting a singalong. The entire band allows the audience to come to them secure in the knowledge the songs will lead them to the promised land.

KoL’s songs are not consistent but when they hit they are not the riff machine you expect, as often as not they are playing interlocking tiny licks that build up and maybe most important, they write dream hooks and sturdy melodies. Unfortunately, they are good for only around 5 songs an album and that means there are stretches where you are truly alone watching girls take selfies in the cheap seats. Around the midway point, just after “Pyro” and until “Beautiful War” six songs later, the set isn’t quite jelling for a non fan like myself and I am thinking of leaving.

But at the encore I wander downwards to get a much closer look and I will say this, the closer you get the better KoL are. I am sure this is true of acts like the Black Keys when they play the Arena. The closer you are the better they are. This isn’t true of Bruce or Taylor Swift, or U2, but Kings Of Leon lean back hard on close circuit cameras and light shows to do the work for them and at a hundred bucks a pop it ain’t enough; there is nothing much to watch. Caleb, who is loosing his boyish good looks, is a black hole of intensity and the other three members are like little satellites of intensity.

Still, I’ve seen a lot worse and the Followill family tree made a fine case for them being a better Southern rock back than My Morning Jackets. For sure, I think many a young lady at MSG last night won’t consider this a Valentine’s Day to forget!

Grade: B-

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