Review by Tony BonyataBrothers Followill three (singer & guitarist Caleb, bassist Jared and drummer Nathan) along with their first cousin (lead guitarist Matthew Followill), collectively known as Kings of Leon, brought their scrappy southern blend of early '70s rock and '60s garage punk to Chicago's Metro last Friday evening.
Photos by Phil Bonyata
Despite similar lead guitar stylings akin to Nick Valensi and the herky-jerky rhythms that abound through much of the band's material, their recent branding as "The Southern Strokes" is still, nonetheless, an unfair comparison. While the influences are certainly there (especially on a handful of tracks from their recently released album Aha Shake Heartbreak), there is a much more obvious influence. Instead of these four Tennessee boys trying to distill their own homebrew version of rock from traditional Southern roots music, much in the way Lynyrd Skynyrd, Little Feat or the Allman Brothers did before them, they instead convincingly mock a group of English boys interpreting the blues, country and gospel. With an unapologetic aplomb, Kings of Leon (like the Black Crowes before them) are one of the few bands to successfully pull off the miraculous feat of tapping into the soul of The Rolling Stones' 1972 masterpiece Exile On Main Street (arguably one of the greatest albums in the history of rock). Whether it's an honest homage or blatant case of sticky fingers, it really doesn't matter because, when push comes to shove, they make it work.
Their brief, hour-long sold-out performance in Chicago equally balanced songs from their 2003 debut album Youth & Young Manhood and their follow-up Aha Shake Heartbreak. The gangly foursome, with tight jeans, scraggly hair and detached attitudes, lit newer songs aflame such as the Whites Stripes-inspired troglodyte stomp of "Four Kicks" and The Stokes-flavored gems "Taper Jean Girl," "The Bucket" and "Soft."
When the band exploded into the punchy "Red Morning Light" Caleb's gruff sour-mash vocals slid over the spastic rhythms like a salamander on wet glass before cousin Matthew unfurled a scorching old-school geee-tar solo. Likewise, the boys blazed through barnburners such as "Wasted Time" and the tobacco-stained rawk of "Happy Alone" from Youth & Young Manhood.
The one thing that did seem strange, however, was that despite the packed house of twenty-somethings, the crowd responded with little more than a collective head nod, occasional springy heel and enthusiastic round of applause at songs' end; not exactly the response you'd expect from a brand of southern rock so down-and-dirty that it wouldn't be surprising to see a hog being tossed around in the moshpit. The one number that did manage to bitch-slap the crowd into a frantic frenzy, though, was the slow, sexy build of their song "Trani." With an apparent knowledge that the best rock & roll never smelled too pretty, the number opened with a subdued and garbled vocal delivery from Caleb (which sounded as if he was washing down a handful of tiger's eye marbles with rye whiskey) before it swayed and swelled into an orgasmic full-on, epic rock masterpiece - complete with the musky stench of b.o., cheap beer, cow manure and burning oil on a hot manifold.
What Kings of Leon brought to Chicago was something that's been missing from rock for too long - a taunting, piss-and-vinegar attitude with some balls-out bravado and the (love it-or-hate it) reek of the rebel south.
Kings of Leon's 03.04.05 Metro Setlist
Red Morning Light
Taper Jean Girl
Pistol Of Fire
King of the Rodeo
Slow Night, So Long
Holy Roller Novocain
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