Kings of Leon Return to B.C. with thud, not thunder
Published Thursday, September 29, 2011 10:21AM PDT
Last night was one of those rare moments when Vancouver became the centre of the music world. Or at least, the part of the music world that cares about arena-filling rock and roll.
At the end of July, Kings of Leon cut short a concert in Dallas when singer Caleb Followill walked off stage after struggling throughout the performance with vocal difficulties. The rest of the North American tour, including the original Vancouver date scheduled for mid-September, was promptly cancelled, followed by a flurry of Twitter activity hinting at long-term problems in the band and a trip to rehab from their "exhausted" front man. Wednesday night's performance at Rogers Arena would mark their return.
The first casualty of the Kings' cancellation was that the originally slated support act, the majestic Band of Horses, had alternate appointments. In their place, Vancouver was graced by recent Rolling Stone cover stars, The Sheepdogs. The pride of Saskatoon, The Sheepdogs' brand of southern rock is so retro it does everything short of opening up a wormhole in time to take you back to that Allman Brothers concert you missed in 1972. They're a fine band, albeit one whose extended solos and unhurried grooves are better suited to the intimacy of a club rather than the cavernous Rogers Arena.
Kings of Leon, on the other hand, seem bred to be arena superstars. Three brothers and a cousin, all named Followill and blessed with male model looks, hair and proximity to stylists, sent virtually all of the attendees, the majority of whom were of the female variety, home happy.
Kicking off with a rapturously received ‘Radioactive', the Kings ploughed through their considerable back catalogue, each introductory guitar riff producing a bigger cheer than the one preceding it. ‘Four Kicks' was an early gem, ‘Notion' was an obvious fan favourite, ‘Pyro' featured a nifty xylophone solo from a talented but nameless session musician and ‘California Waiting' produced an immense outbreak of swaying throughout the arena. Caleb's voice, fresh from the rest of rehab, wasn't at its most raspy, but there wasn't a missed note all night. The sound was terrific, the light display was mesmerising and the band's hair, always a key element of a Kings of Leon production, was never less than spectacular.
Still, for a band that prides itself on being a live act, Kings of Leon did staggeringly little to win over non-believers. It took four songs under the band's belt before Caleb saw fit to address the crowd. His initial proclamation, "Thank you very much. We are Kings of Leon," was as expressive as he ever got. The cancellations, the Vancouver postponement or the alleged troubles within the band were never addressed. Instead, the traditional clichés of arena rock were churned out without warmth or imagination. "You guys are one of the best crowds we've had for a long, long time," was the most heartfelt he could muster.
That detachment between the band and the crowd was echoed between the performers on stage. Caleb barely exchanged glances with his brothers and cousins. Bassist Jared and lead guitarist Matthew did little more than stand on either side of the stage looking handsome (admittedly, they performed this task brilliantly). It took a wildly received ‘Sex On Fire' at the show's climax before Caleb cracked his first and only smile.
So did Vancouver witness another pivotal moment in the decline and fall of the Kingdom of Leon?
Unlikely. Last night the band proved they could deliver a near two-hour set of easily digestible arena anthems, essentially an homage to themselves, while never straying from their comfort zone. Kings of Leon will be millionaires for decades to come. Get used to it.