Kings of Leon
San Francisco, CA
It's Saturday night at the recently refurbished Warfield Theater in San Francisco, CA., and the Kings of Leon are playing the second night of a sold out two night stand in the Bay Area.
Touring in support of their recently released album, Only By The Night, KOL overcame illness to give their growing legion of fans a heavy, rocking set that showcased material off the new album and left no doubt of the band's aspirations to be as big in America as they are across the pond in Europe.
Right out of the gate, KOL set the tone for the evening with a loud, rocking version of current single "Sex on Fire". The song's driving rhythm primed both the band and the crowd to converge and sing the song's soaring anthemic chorus to the delight of everyone in the theater. If there is a Saturday night call to arms, this song is the sound of that call.
KOL stoked the crowd's fire by following the opener with the one-two combination of "My Party" off 2007's Because of the Times, and "Razz" off of 2005's Aha Shake Heartbreak, keeping the pace of the show Ramones-esque with a rapid fire succession of songs with little-to-no pauses between them.
Playing against a bare-bones backdrop, KOL's new direction into bigger, anthemic rock connected with fans on songs like "Use Somebody", "On Call" and the drifty "Revelery", but the band's past was not abondoned: classic songs off Aha Shake Heartbreak like "Taper Jean Girl", "Slow Night So Long" and "Milk" blended seamlessly with the newer material.
Performing with the tight finesse of a seasoned road band, KOL's confident stage presence and delivery made one forget how young the guys in the band are age-wise. Battling a flu bug, frontman Caleb Followill shrugged off the illness to make that important emotional connection with the audience and was careful not to shred his already marbled vocals, while babyfaced guitarist and flat iron enthusiast Matthew Followill focused on playing some haunting, ethereal lead guitar that would have made The Edge smile in approval.
Songs off Only by the Night, showed the band continuing to mine the atmospherics of early U2 and merge that style with their earlier indie rock take on southern blues boogie. But where U2 were looking for God on the streets of Las Vegas, KOL stay focused on the complexities of getting laid and the dreaded politics of the morning after.
Drummer Nathan Followill was the MVP of the night, with his heavy, driving back beat that anchored songs like "Knocked Up" (a show highlight) and "The Bucket" among others. Bassist Jared Followill locked into some serious grooves with fellow brother Nathan and continued to explore his recent interest in fuzzed out basslines on newer songs like "Charmer" and "Crawl".
If there was anything to gripe about, it was the band's short set. 90 minutes later and the crowd found itself back on the sidewalk of Market Street before 11 PM. With four albums to pull from, the band should be able to give fans a meatier setlist. Where was "Be Somebody" off the new album (one of the newer, more dynamic songs begging for a spot in the live show)? Where was fan favorite "Trani" or "McFearless"?
Perhaps it was frontman Caleb's mystery illness that shortened the show, but if KOL want to continue to expand it's fanbase and graduate to larger venues, it needs the musical muscle to make each show unique in its own right.
Setlist complaints aside, Kings of Leon gave longtime fans and new converts a great musical primer to their Saturday night exploits in the city.
Sex on Fire
Taper Jean Girl
King of the Rodeo
Slow Night, So Long
YouTube videos courtesy of a fan and used without permission.