“We’re Kings of Leon,” said frontman, Caleb Followill, before breaking into “Muchacho” off their new record, WALLS.
After 14 years and seven records, it’s safe to say all 17,000 people in Boston’s TD Garden were well aware of who was on stage. It’s a common intro at a Kings of Leon concert, but this past January, I took it differently.
I’ve now seen Kings of Leon live three times. The first being at the Austin City Limits Festival in 2009; Eddie Vedder joined the band for their finale. It was a giant party. The second; in late 2010 at Madison Square Garden. A solid show at a sensitive time where all four band members where crammed on one surfboard, riding a choppy wave that was leading to some eventual muddy waters. January 13, 2017 — I felt like I was in the house, witnessing Rocky Balboa take out Ivan Drago. The band was undoubtedly (mc)fearless in their approach.
From where I was sitting, I could see the tunnel light up as they made their way to the stage from the dressing room. I immediately noticed (aside from a few pairs of white pants and guitarist, Matthew Followill, looking very Led Zeppelin-y) a hop in the entire bands step. A “let’s do this” walk with a tenacity that remained ever-present throughout all 26 songs.
Upon taking the stage, the brothers and cousin formed what was most likely a subconscious huddle behind a red, velvet-looking, curtain. To start the night, they erupted into — “The End.” The opening track from Come Around Sundown —a record unanimous with their most challenging time and the follow-up to the rocket ship, Only By The Night. With over 80 songs to pick from in their now extensive catalog, “The End,” was a symbolic opening choice. It’s a moody, bass-driven tune, with a looping “This could be the end” chorus. That’s what made it beautiful. Any moment could be the end of something. Might as well be grateful, give it all you have and appreciate what’s in front of you.
That’s exactly what Kings of Leon did for the next two hours.
Prior to the release of “WALLS,” Apple Music put out a fascinating interview where Zane Lowe travels to Kings of Leon’s Nashville headquarters and hits the band with deep and very well thought-out questions. I was struck by how sincere and honest each member responded. The feature genuinely shines a light on the bands new lease on life. This attitude completely translated to the live show.
“We are very blessed to be where we’re at and do what we do. Awhile back, we took it as … make the most of it from this point forward and not take it for granted.” — Nathan Followill
Kings of Leon have absolutely nothing to prove, yet I have never seen a band confront a live show with as much grit as the Followill’s did this past Friday. The opening question in Lowe’s interview revolves around the band appearing hungry still at this stage of their career. “There’s something that keeps you going and keeps pushing you. Especially when you’re in a band with your family because we are competitive,” said Caleb. “We were all equally inspired and ready to do something that we were really proud of. When we see that someone else has that fire, you inspire each other,” Matthew later noted.
It did not take long to determine… these guys are fighting for something. Perhaps not so much for recognition from the audience, but for the four guys on stage holding the instruments. Working for what you have is a trademark characteristic of Kings of Leon. Success did not come overnight. They rolled up their sleeves, scratched and clawed their way to the top throughout the early 2000’s. When you have that sort of passion and desire in your blood, the blessing that overcomes the occasional curse is that you always have it. You resort back to it, sometimes long after you ever thought you’d ever need to again. Somehow you feel comfortable in the discomfort. It’s the only way you know.
“We’ve always felt like underdogs. Whenever our music came out, it was always on the heels of the new rock revolution. People thought we were something at the end.” — Caleb Followill
About halfway through the set, Caleb takes a few steps up as Nathan, Jared and Matthew take a short break. He grabs the acoustic, closes his eyes and soars into a solo rendition of “The Runner,’’ … mind you this was right after the bands biggest song, “Sex on Fire” — another inflection point driven set choice. The rest of the band lets Caleb take this on his own, facing down whatever it is he has burning inside of him. Then, as brothers-in-arm do, they slowly walk back on stage and take their places. Not behind him, but right next to him. Shoulder to shoulder for a stripped down, tug-your-heartstrings version of ….. “Comeback Story.” Hmm. Bold.
Technically, the Mechanical Bull era may have served as the comeback from tumultuous times record. But now, each member is married, three have children and WALLS represents a collection of art that sincerely taps into the bands most personal messaging. As Chris Fowler put it, they’ve seen a thing or two by now. The record digs deep beneath the ground, unearths a lot of stones and then simply puts them down. The live show does the same. You’re taken on a career-spanning journey where the emotions have peaks and valleys, similar to the band’s experiences. You find Kings of Leon challenging themselves, jumping in the waters when they are raging and forging ahead in lockstep atop the foundation of it all, their music. By recognizing their past, staying true to themselves and carrying on once they’ve had enough, their music truly does the talking.
“Had we not had that moment, we wouldn’t be here talking about this album.” — Caleb Followill
During the appropriately titled “Conversation Piece,” we see Caleb put the guitar down for the first time, take the mic off the stand and slowly waltz around the front of the stage — delivering an open one-on-one. During “Crawl” he does the sign of the cross.
“It’s therapeutic. It took be a long time to do it and I’m glad that I did it — when I’m up there singing these songs that are that honest moment to myself.” — Caleb Followill
In the words of the loudest moment of night:
“Spill out on the streets of stars and ride away. Find out what you are face to face.”
*all quotes from Zane Lowe’s, Apple Music interview with Kings of Leon
Kings of Leon on tour now. For a full list of dates visit: KingsofLeon.com