Admit it: Kings of Leon have gotten stuck in your craw for at least 30 seconds in their ascent to American rock deities or demons, depending on what side of the love/hate spectrum your tastes reside. “Use Somebody” is one of the biggest earworms of the past decade. “Sex On Fire” is a dive bar jukebox mainstay at this point. It’s been a minute since KoL have changed the strings on their electric guitars and hit the road to preach the gospel of New Nashville (or their version of it), but with Mechanical Bull, their first record in three years and one that debuted at #1 in the UK and #2 in the US, you’d think the brooding, belting band of brothers (and cousin) would be ready to saddle up and buck up for an explosive volley of performances, SNL and otherwise, before they embark on a massive international tour in early 2014. You’d think they’d narrow their eyes and grit their teeth and inject the kind of intensity that made them famous, that made Caleb’s screaming and straightforward tenor so endearing and addictive, into every single move they make as they get the music of Mechanical Bull out there. You’d think they’d show up to a late night television performance and prove to the world that they’ve still got the spark that “Use Somebody” fanned into an inferno.
Kings of Leon’s return to Saturday Night Live was one of the most underwhelming performances they’ve delivered in their collective career to date, and one that doesn’t do justice to the anthemic quality of the most recent batch of supposed-to-be hits they’ve penned. Maybe it just is that easy for Caleb to sound sensational while looking bored as can be, and maybe Nathan Followill can look like he’s ready for nap time while battering a 4/4 signature into submission. Kings of Leon’s lack of perceived interest in “Temple” and “Wait For Me” was one that echoed with an eagerly listening fan base that was seemingly split between those elated at their return and a sea of disappointed shrugs. Kings of Leon looked at the necks of their guitars like they were confused and didn’t know the chord changes. And a number of their fans followed suit in more than one way.
The guys may be older–hell, most of them are parents now–than they were when they made the unfortunate decision to rock blunt-cut bangs while singing “Molly’s Chambers.” The artistic tendencies of a group of men who’ve favored adulthood over the raucous behavior of their rock star youthresult in songs that skew towards that shift. Caleb’s brow may furrow less when he soars over the high notes as he sings about “tak[ing] one to the temple,” and the grit on his vocal chords from “Sex On Fire” may retreat to a softer place as it did on “Wait For Me.” The stylistic shift is the problem, and the fire that went out on the SNL stage wasn’t one that came from the new stuff. It came entirely from the performance of the new stuff itself.
Still, plenty of “take it to the temple” jokes were made, Caleb’s sweater became the butt of many a joke and a flurry of fans hit Twitter to gush over the return of the Kings. Otherwise, the internet’s peanut gallery agreed: the KOL SNL performance was nothing to get too excited about.
To the tweets!
kings of leon are already like goo goo dolls-level washed up
— Kyle Wall (@kyleawall) December 15, 2013
— Wally Wackiman (@WallyWackiman) December 15, 2013
If these guys are the Kings of Leon, then Leon must be a real garbage pit.
— scharpling (@scharpling) December 15, 2013
SNL last night: lead singer of Kings of Leon rockin’ a beard and pink cardigan. Looks just like Justin from Bon Iver.
— Ryan Tufo (@RyanTufo) December 15, 2013
SNL Question – Did the SNL cast tell Kings of Leon where the after party was or kinda ditch them?
— Jon Daly (@jondaly) December 15, 2013
Anyway, I had no idea Randy Newman looked that way or sang lead for Kings of Leon. #SNL
— Anne T. Donahue (@annetdonahue) December 15, 2013
The acronym for Kings of Leon is “KOL” which is sorta close to “KILL” as in “kill me.” #SNL
— Jarnevic (@Jarnevic) December 15, 2013
kings of leon is good. never heard of them before.
— Michael Che (@CheThinks) December 15, 2013
Kings of Leon just gave one of the most low energy performances I’ve ever seen on SNL…and that’s saying something.
— T. Cole Rachel (@tcolerachel) December 15, 2013
Catching up with #SNL. Does anyone else feel like KoL phoned it in? What has happened to them?
— Mary E. Gilmore (@maryegilmore) December 15, 2013
KOL lead singer is looking at the mic like it stole something from him. #SNL
— Ben (@MinnesotaBen) December 15, 2013
And +10 points to the Followills for donning some scraggly beards and pokin’ fun at themselves.
— Saturday Night Live (@nbcsnl) December 15, 2013