Monday, March 24, 2014

Kings of Leon, Local Natives concert review: Los Angeles

My review originally appeared at

Last time Kings of Leon played the Forum, they were still riding high from the double-platinum success of Only by the Night and three chart-topping alternative rock singles. The resulting concert was electrifying.

Flash-forward 41/2 years and a lot has changed: Most of the Tennessee band is married with children, and the venerable Inglewood venue has undergone a major overhaul.

The band’s sixth studio release Mechanical Bull reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200 upon release last September but didn’t sell like gangbusters, though it spawned three more Top 20 alt-radio hits.

Some among Friday’s crowd obviously hadn’t heard about the media blitz or the Eagles’ extended run accompanying the arena’s reopening in January. A pair of clueless (or possibly inebriated) young ladies at the box office asked whether seating was indoors or outdoors.

Local Natives definitely knew about the Forum’s history. At one point during their rapturous 45-minute opening set, co-vocalist/guitarist Taylor Rice said, “I can feel the Lakers' presence here.”

The well-attended show was the Followill family’s first full-length local performance to promote the new effort, and before it began, fuzzy, multicolored lights like the album’s artwork were projected on a translucent scrim that covered the stage. Then the band appeared in shadow behind it, launching the solid 27-song, nearly two-hour performance in strange fashion with “Charmer,” off 2007’s Because of the Times.

Hardly one of the most memorable tracks in the group’s catalog, it finds frontman Caleb Followill (pictured, above) basically shrieking to a brawny riff. Horror images were projected on a large LED backdrop during it, the first of several intriguing visuals this night.

A laid-back ’70s vibe characterized “Rock City,” the first of eight Mechanical selections, as Caleb sang about a guy comfortable enough to admit he can “shake it like a woman,” a stark contrast to these musicians’ more macho image.

Bassist Jered Followill (pictured, left) led the bump-and-grind groove of “My Party,” and the evening’s first highlight came from the driving, pop-inflected “Temple,” for which drummer Nathan Followill and an auxiliary player added soaring backing vocals.

The spacey “On Call” and “Closer” were captivating as usual; lead guitarist Matthew Followill was in fine form while plying reverb-drenched effects, and fans sang along loudly. The sexually charged “Family Tree” provided yet another slinky groove and gang vocals.

Taking a slight breather, Caleb noted the band was glad to be back in California after playing freezing-cold states since the U.S. tour launched last month. Then he strapped on an acoustic guitar for the inviting folk ballad “Back Down South.”

It worked so well that they should have tackled the latest album’s simmering standout “Beautiful War” and “Last Mile Home,” featured in the Oscar-nominated film August: Osage County.

Later, the stomping “Supersoaker” proved a melodic delight live, and retro R-rated burlesque clips on the backdrop were quite a surprise. Before “Radioactive,” Caleb recalled the group’s first trip here and thanked fans for their support: “We saw all the beautiful people and sunshine. We all had long hair; I’d like to have some of it back again. We never thought we’d come so far and it’s because of you.” The tune’s circuitous guitar riffs, alongside Nathan’s backing harmonies, made for another high point.

Despite some dubious lyrics, the tour premiere of the rustic “Comeback Story,” complete with equally beautiful screen imagery, was a welcome addition. The atmospheric “Cold Desert” (slow-falling confetti and the Forum’s sparkling new roof lights combined for a perfect effect) and the majestic upward thrust of “Use Somebody” capped the main set – and by the time KoL got to big hit “Sex on Fire,” the whole place was singing along loudly.

In its Forum debut, Local Natives seamlessly translated the dense, enchanting sounds from last year’s impressive Hummingbird to a large space. No surprise there: The hard-working, O.C.-reared but L.A.-based indie rock act played 188 shows last year. A seemingly odd choice for warm-up, they still received an enthusiastic response.

At Coachella last April, I’d only heard one captivating song from the guys before having to dash to another stage to see Sparks. I wasn’t disappointed by this expanded dose: “World News” got things off to a high-flying start; cascading guitars on “You & I” and a heavenly falsetto from co-vocalist/keyboardist/percussionist Kelcey Ayer recalled Sigur Rós; “Wide Eyes” was an intense rhythmic workout.

Earlier that day, Ayer saw a big concert shot of Coldplay backstage and was reminded of his deceased mother, who was a fan. He dedicated a song to her: “I feel she’d be pretty stoked that we’re here.”

The angular, Foals-esque “Breakers” made a strong impression, and a small group of fans up front serenaded guitarist Ryan Hahn for his birthday.

Rice (pictured, left) also thanked family members in attendance who “let us play way too loud for years in their garages” prior to the anthemic “Who Knows Who Cares.”

Finally, the darkly-hued “Sun Hands” featured a group chant and a maelstrom of sound for a compelling, spastic finish.

Kings of Leon
Main set: Charmer / Rock City / My Party / Temple / On Call / Family Tree / Closer / The Immortals / Back Down South / Wait for Me / Supersoaker / Milk / Pyro / Tonight / Radioactive / The Bucket / Don’t Matter / Molly’s Chambers / Four Kicks / Be Somebody / Notion / Comeback Story / Cold Desert / Use Somebody
Encore: Crawl / Black Thumbnail / Sex on Fire

Photos by Armando Brown

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