Kings of Leon
Madison Square Garden
Tuesday, November 16
Better Than: A Zac Brown Band concert, at the very least, you’d have to think.
To say that Kings of Leon’s wild success — here we are, at a packed MSG, not for the first time — is somewhat mystifying is not an insult, necessarily: You can ask Why Them, but you can just as easily ask Why Not. We need arena rockers, after all, given that we’ve got all these arenas lying around. And out come KOL, in a bizarre plume of red smoke, to (bizarrely) the strains of the Police’s “Invisible Sun,” to fill this one. Launching into the bawdy, pleasingly graceless roadhouse stomp of “Mary,” they are bathed in the light of a disco ball and projected on three video screens in Classic Americana black and white, as though trying to embody as many parts of U2’s persona — the Rattle & Hum authenticity, the cheeky Pop hedonism — as possible. They don’t offer anything you can’t leave behind, it’s true, but it’s also true that no one here is leaving.
Basically these dudes play politely anthemic stadium-rock tunes that are all exactly the same length (4:15 approximately) and all easy marks for a 100-percent Guitar Hero score, which is always appreciated: the chord changes simple and comforting, the guitar solos disruptive but orderly, the catchiest hooks sung by, uh, the drummer. (Including the mighty “Use Somebody,” which is just straight up a fucking great song, and don’t even bother arguing with me about this, especially since Jay-Z agrees.) Caleb Followill sings them all in his laconic drawl, never too excited or ferocious, and the same with his banter: How wild can this show get, really, when it includes the announcement “I just want to say how wonderful it is to have our moms here tonight. The two prettiest women in the world.”
We are heavy tonight on the new Come Around Sundown, of course, which lacks a jam of “Use Somebody” caliber, though “Immortals” comes awful close, a new-wave stiltedness in the verses suddenly dead-ending into a monster sledgehammer chorus. Elsewhere, the country-fried “Back Down South” heads in precisely that direction, their biggest sop to the whole sons-of-a-traveling-preacher thing: “I could skeet on a tractor right now,” announces my uncouth companion. “God damn.” The crowd is sort of into “Pyro,” xylophone deployment notwithstanding, everyone singing “Can you feel it?” as though they really can, or at least are willing to try. Otherwise the vibe is oddly subdued, frankly — nothing on remotely the scale of, say, Arcade Fire-style euphoria, until of course, we get to “Sex on Fire,” their dumbest chorus and, by mass consensus, their best, which makes sense. A burst of strobe lights and a few rounds of (if I can even say this in the post-Great White era) chintzy-ass fireworks back the slightly punkier thrall of “Black Thumbnail,” and that’s that. You could ask for more bombast, from band and crowd alike, but both seem perfectly content to mellow out. And why not.
Critical Bias: As a lover of loopy stage banter I find Caleb to be a real bummer (“You guys having a good time out there?” etc.), though given that this is MSG I suppose seeing us off with “Drive safe” is pretty funny.
Overheard: “I actually don’t like their good songs.”
Random Notebook Dump: Forgive me, but I’m gonna type this out again: “I could skeet on a tractor right now.”
Back Down South
Sex on Fire