Monday, August 24, 2009

Kings of Leon concert review: LA

Photo by: Kelly Swift
My review originally appeared in the OC Register

Kings of Leon, The Whigs
Where: The Forum, Inglewood
When: Aug. 22

Foreign success is perfectly well and good, but attaining fame and fortune on your own turf is much sweeter – something Kings of Leon waited six years to discover. The band currently has a platinum-selling album at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 chart (Only By the Night) and a single (“Use Somebody”) in the same position on the Hot 100 tally. These guys’ presence is so pervasive on pop and rock radio right now that three random channel surfing experiences turned up all three recent hits.

During an electrifying, sold out concert at The Forum on Saturday, the band was clearly reveling in the fruits of their labors and biggest Los Angeles area gig to date. Singer/guitarist Caleb Followill (who has admitted to such extreme nervousness that he often has to vomit before taking the stage) seemed more relaxed than at the smaller Nokia Theatre/L.A. Live last October.

At various points in the show, Caleb told the Inglewood audience, “this is the rare occasion when all of us up here are having a good time” and “you don’t realize how proud you make this little band from Tennessee feel. God bless you all.”

Formed a decade ago in Nashville, the family quartet (three brothers and a cousin) put out debut album Youth and Young Manhood in 2003. It immediately found favor in the U.K. and Australia and spawned several chart singles. The same held true for subsequent efforts Aha Shake Heartbreak and Because of the Times.

Kings of Leon headlined large festivals and venues abroad, yet despite high profile tour opening stints with U2, Pearl Jam and Bob Dylan, the band’s swampy, Southern fried garage rock music only managed to draw a cult following here.

Truth be told, Caleb’s indecipherable drawl and the Allman Brothers-meets-The Strokes sound was moderately interesting at best. Minor sonic experimentation on “Times” was a step in the right direction. The atmospheric sound came to full fruition on the exemplary “Night.” One of 2008’s best albums, the collection saw Caleb emerge as a more confident singer/songwriter and people like U2 and My Morning Jacket a run for the money.

After nearly a year on the road, the Followills didn’t display any signs of tour fatigue in L.A. Caleb’s voice was soulful and raspy as ever. The old, dilapidated Forum has a reputation for poor acoustics, but the sound couldn’t have been better when Kings of Leon held court there.

Nathan’s tribal drums and eerie guitar squalls from cousin Matthew on “Be Somebody” (the first of nine songs performed from “Night”) got the 100-minute, 21-song set off to a frantic start. The supercharged vibe continued on the propulsive “My Party,” where Matthew did some fine slide work and Nathan added backing howls.

Fans on the packed general admission floor pumped their fists in approval. Fittingly, electrocardiogram-type images were shown on multiple projection screens (if anything could get your heart pumping faster, it’s Kings of Leon). The artsy camera work must have frustrated those in the upper sections whenever the band was pictured from behind, framed in half or in grainy camera phone-styled shots.

A quick, spiraling sequencer riff reminiscent of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” served as the intro to the high-flying acoustic guitar-driven shuffle “Fans.” Matthew played gorgeous reverb-drenched guitar on the haunting “Revelry,” then played the instrument with his teeth (!) on the spacey “Closer” as spotlights pointed on the crowd.

There was a dirty Led Zeppelin crunch during the hard rocking “Crawl.” Caleb’s shrieking amid “Charmer” was even more intense live. I rarely enjoy bass solos, but Jared’s inventive patterns on the latter and elsewhere were welcome.

Before a transcendent “Sex on Fire,” dispatched mid-set, Caleb quipped: “I’m sure none of you want to sing along now. They play this song way too much around here. I apologize; I was on pills when I wrote it” (recovering from a shoulder injury). The crowd almost drowned out the band on the chorus.

Other standouts included Caleb’s effective delivery on the passionate “Cold Desert,” bolstered by The Edge-inspired lead guitar effects (Matthew didn’t move around much onstage, but sure coaxed some intriguing sounds out of his guitars) and soaring main set closer, “Use Somebody.”

Athens, Ga. trio The Whigs opened the show with a spirited 45-minute set of raucous alt-rock. “Like a Vibration,” from latest album Mission Control, brought to mind early Elvis Costello and “In the Dark” boasted a careening sound along the lines of Foo Fighters. Lanky front man Parker Gispert could hardly contain his enthusiasm, doing high kicks, jumping on the drum riser and squeezing feedback from his guitar at every turn (“Right Hand on My Heart,” the psychedelic rock freakout “Already Young”).

Kings of Leon, The Forum, Aug. 22, 2009
Main set: Be Somebody/Taper Jean Girl/My Party/Molly's Chambers/Red Morning Light/Fans/Revelry/Closer/Crawl/Four Kicks/Charmer/Sex on Fire/The Bucket/Notion/On Call/Cold Desert/Use Somebody
Encore: Slow Night, So Long/Knocked Up/Manhattan/Black Thumbnail

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