Monday, October 6, 2014

Kings of Leon, Young the Giant, Kongos concert review: Los Angeles

Chris Martin and Matthew Followill, courtesy: PMK*BNC
My review originally ran at 

There’s nothing like some added star power and orchestration to ward off any tour doldrums. That’s what happened Friday night in LA when Kings of Leon brought Coldplay’s Chris Martin and a string section onstage for the penultimate show of their Mechanical Bull jaunt. 

Launched last February for Kings of Leon’s now year-old album of the same name, it hit a snag over the summer after drummer Nathan Followill broke his ribs in a minor tour bus accident and the group had to cancel a few weeks of shows. 

Although “Bull” hasn’t sold as well as 2010 predecessor Come Around Sundown, it has several winning moments and spawned three top 20 modern rock radio hits. Curiously, one of them - “Wait for Me” - wasn’t played at this well-attended Hollywood Bowl show. 

Kings of Leon opened the 95-minute set with a high energy “Supersoaker” as images of floating water droplets adorned a big screen. Then the quartet raced through a frantic “Taper Jean Girl” and the next couple tunes. Matthew Followill’s ringing guitar work during “The Bucket” and his more spacey effect on the slowly enveloping “Closer” were glorious as ever. 

Auxiliary member Christopher Coleman did a fine job at filling out the band’s sound on a variety of instruments, especially a swelling organ intro to the keening “Mi Amigo.” The entire band stepped up backing harmonies during a strong “Mary” as retro wholesome images of families frolicking on a beach were projected behind them. 

(This tour contains some of the best production values I’ve seen all year.) 

photo by Joshua Suddock
Singer/guitarist Caleb Followill urged the crowd to let loose before the string section made its first appearance on a seven-minute long “Knocked Up” and “Milk.” 

But the extra trimmings didn’t really elevate the overall sound. The strings would’ve been better served on “Comeback Story” from the latest album that was actually played in this format at Lollapalooza, but omitted here. 

Concertgoers sang along loudly to “Pyro” (Coleman did a bit of xylophone) and driving rocker “Temple.” Both were highlights. “Don’t Matter” saw the musicians really kick out the jams for a full-on audio/visual assault. 

Over the course of this final leg of the tour, Kings of Leon solicited fans’ help online to choose a “Song for the City” that wouldn’t be played anywhere else. Hollywood’s selection was “Talihina Sky,” a rare hidden cut on 2003 debut CD “Youth and Young Manhood” and title of a 2011 band documentary. 

Martin bounded onstage, all smiles, to play piano and sing a verse on the low key barroom style song while images of Talihina, Okla. were projected behind them. The Coldplay singer remained for an electrifying “Notion.” 

Once he left, Caleb deadpanned, “hope you enjoyed that; it cost us a lot of money.” The guest appearance wasn’t a complete surprise: Martin joined the band onstage in Glasgow last May too.

Later, the band followed the usual final segment order. It included an atmospheric “Cold Desert,” where several couples slow danced and Matthew appended a spastic solo. “Use Somebody” soared mightily. 

Come encore time, the string players returned for the heavy thrust of “Crawl,” led by Jered Followill’s fat bass lines and Matthew’s fuzztone guitar, but the orchestration could barely be heard above the din. Kings of Leon concluded with major hit “Sex on Fire.” 

photo by Joshua Suddock
Irvine’s Young the Giant (now based in LA) proved mesmerizing with a 45-minute opening set devoted to “Mind Over Matter.” The sophomore effort made a top 10 debut on Billboard 200 chart earlier this year. 

At various times at the Bowl, singer Sameer Gadhia shook a tambourine, completely immersed himself in the frequently dreamy sounds, pounded a tambourine and shook his body around to the band’s edgier numbers. 

Big alt-rock radio single “It’s About Time” was lean, mean and intense; the reverb guitar drenched “Apartment” had an intoxicating sway; “Eros” boasted an effervescent Afro-beat vibe; dramatic early hit “Cough Syrup” was dedicated to all the people who were around from “the very beginning and saw us at small places like the Viper Room.” 

Current KROQ fave “Mind Over Matter” found Gadhia’s winsome feathery falsetto atop Jacob Tilley and Eric Cannata’s vibrant guitars and it got a rousing response. The band ended with dynamic rocker “My Body.” Members of fellow opener Kongos, performing their last night on this tour, joined for backing vocals. 

Kongos’ own 35-minute opening set didn’t fare so well, mainly because the dense, accordion-driven sound was swallowed up by the cavernous Bowl. 

photo by Joshua Suddock
Despite being ignored by chatty early arrivals, the Phoenix-by-way-of-South Africa rock band did manage some standout moments.

The tribal thrust of latest hit “I’m Only Joking,” melodic reggae of “I Want to Know” and an eerie, tension-filled “Come with Me Now,” which topped the Billboard alternative chart for five weeks and went platinum were among them.

A lurching, rap-filled revamp of the Beatles’ “Come Together” was far less successful.

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