"Help your brother’s boat across, and your own will reach the shore." - Hindu Proverb
"There's nothing like some time away from your brothers to help you not want to kill them quite so much." - Me
Indeed the Followill brothers have helped each other get their boats across the wide waters to fame and fortune, but they have also violently attacked each other over games of pool, shuffleboard and girls. My experience tends more toward the latter, having no fame or fortune, but the broken bones and scars of la familia loca.
It's fitting that Kings of Leon are kicking off the first night of their U.S. tour beneath the tent-like structure at Verizon Amphitheater St. Louis, as the Followills spent a good deal of their childhood living in an Oldsmobile traveling from one Pentecostal tent revival to another in the poverty stricken hinterlands of Oklahoma and Kentucky. It's a long, long way from white bread and peanut butter in the back seat of an Olds 88 to drugs and supermodels on a private jet, zooming to some other world-class cool location to continue the debauchery.
It's a tale of the tightrope walk between the sacred and the profane. It's not new to rock and roll. Little Richard walked it. Jerry Lee Lewis walked it. Jerry Lee advised eschewing the middle ground, saying, "Either be hot or cold. If you are lukewarm, the Lord will spew you from His mouth."
And the Kings of Leon must have been listening to the Killer's advice. Wow, were they!
But things with a big front generally have a big back, and in 2011 the decades of hyperconnected madness came to a head, fueled by narcissism, drugs and brothers bullshit. So, Caleb, Nathan and Jared, along with their cousin Matthew, took a year off from each other and the band to deal with the issues that were getting in the way of the music.
The rocking quality of their new album, "Mechanical Bull," is indication that the break worked wonders. And perhaps it kept them from going the way of Cain and Abel. Tonight, we the faithful have made the pilgrimage to a tent by a river in the middle of summer, heads pointed toward the heavens, and rafters, hopeful that all are redeemed, and that all the bad blood and harshness can be forgotten in the name of the music, and praying mightily not to be shat upon from the heavens, or rafters. Verily.
Kongos, who beat the brother count by one over KOL, opened the show at 7 p.m., a time that, in other than polar vortex weather patterns, write my essay for me would equate to hell, if hell had St. Louis humidity. The band is based in Phoenix now (also with low humidity!), but have also made London and South Africa their home. Their instrumentation, groove and tight arrangements were sometimes reminiscent of the sound of Paul Simon's "Graceland," which makes sense with the South African connection.
The stage energy of Johnny, Jesse, Dylan and Daniel Kongos helped make them one of the coolest first acts in recent memory. Their album, "Lunatic," was first released on a small scale and then was re-released by Epic Records in January 2014. I would love to see the group again, headlining in bit smaller venue, and where the crowd wasn't still milling about in search of nachos and beer.
Young the Giant took the stage next and commanded the outdoor arena with a huge stage presence that seemed more appropriate as the sun went down and night approached, and with a sound that is wild and frantic, similar to the frenzy of Mars Volta or the Airborne Toxic Event. Based in Irvine, California, the quintet is riding high on the strength of their 2014 release, "Mind Over Matter," and their confidence seemed to be soaring.
From the opening moments, lead singer Sameer Gadhia commanded attention, swirling and twirling in a world of his own. He also seemed to excite the ladies of the audience who stood and danced energetically, propelled by the abandon and muscle of the music and of Gadhia's stage antics. YTG has a strong St. Louis following, having sold out a show as headliner at the Pageant in March of this year, and the crowd was very enthusiastic and supportive. I personally felt they had a bit more muscle and punch than finesse in this outdoor setting, but my concerns certainly didn't seem to be shared by the flailing bodies around me.
As the stage crew readied the stage for the Kings of Leon set, the stage-wide backdrop of black seemed too bland to be what it appeared, and it turned out to be anything but bland. From the beginning notes, the backdrop exploded in images and lights and video footage, one of the most impressive light shows I've ever seen. The videographers, whose work is normally projected on only the Jumbotrons on the sides of the stage, also had the larger canvas behind the band to show single images, split images and close-ups, along with a directed flow of fractals and mini-movies, to make the visual portion of the evening exciting from start to finish.
The band was focused and energetic, but not frantically so. They mostly stood their ground and played muscled rock and roll. As has been mentioned, the band had a bad experience in 2010 at this venue. An infestation of pigeons were populating the rafters above the band, and infamously let go of a load of poop on, around and, according to bassist Jared Followill, even in the band, as his mouth was targeted. I remember well the fallout after the show was aborted three songs into the evening. There weren't many KOL fans in St. Louis that didn't have a taste in their mouth similar to Jared's.
But that was then and this is now. So far gone is the narcissism and druggy "I am rock god" mentality that Caleb, the only one to speak during the whole show, announced, "We are Kings of Leon," a couple of times during the show, like a bar band that wants you to remember their name. It was endearing and kind of cute. As if we didn't know!
Gone too seems to be the animosity in the group. Nathan and Caleb sang together as a gospel duo in their youth, and plenty has been written about Nathan's voice possibly being the more pure of the two. The time apart, with newly started families, has seemed to heal a lot of the anger the group famously projected through their history, or at least it has allowed them the patience to live with it.
There was plenty of energy, but not showy energy. The band seems to be at a peak of their powers as a live act, not flailing about for effect, but genuinely moved by the raucous noise they throw up to the heavens. It seemed to be a band having fun again.
The set started with power as they launched into "Supersoaker," and it was obvious that we were in for a show. There wasn't a great deal of stage banter, often Nathan's drums segued from one song to the other, but there was a sort of unspoken commitment that the show was a make-up, a redemption and a show of gathered maturity and direction. Caleb said that is was good to be "back home" as they kicked off the first night of this long U.S. tour, and toward the end of the evening he reiterated, "Seriously, man, it's good to be back."
Their recorded work was well represented, playing songs from almost all. Highlights for me were the songs from "Aha Shake Heartbreak" and "Only by the Night," but there wasn't a bad song in the entire set. Perhaps as part of their making up with the city, as part of the redemption they sought, Caleb announced that they were going to play a song they hadn't played in a long while, one that was requested a lot and one that they only were going to play once on the tour, for St. Louis.
The crowd accepted the offering of "Slow Night, So Long," and the whole evening, in the spirit of forgiveness and love. For who among us hasn't sinned, and who among us hasn't felt the crap of life come raining down? It's not the fall that counts, it's the picking up after.