Kings Of Leon
Kings Of Leon in Newquay, England | Credit: Hugh R Hastings/Getty Images

Kings Of Leon Review – Subtle Theatrics and Good Natured Fun

Kings Of Leon performed at Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena on Monday, 31st October. David James Young reviews.

At some point after their ode to burning hot intimacy became the biggest song in the world, Kings Of Leon went from modern rock’s prodigal sons to its punching bag. The gold and platinum certifications kept stacking up, but so did the rap sheet: the “we’re the goddamn Kings Of Leon, so fuck you” incident; the V Festival saga; getting shat off stage by a gang of pigeons; becoming the first major band to release an NFT; becoming the first major band to send an NFT into space. Hell, just last week their drummer got into a brouhaha with a golf club.

It’s a lot to reckon with, and enough to make you want to ignore everything that came after the Followills’ Meet Me In The Bathroom glory days.

Kings Of Leon – ‘The Bandit’

With all that said, something feels different tonight. No air of pretension, no sibling tensions, and no avian faecal matter. The vibe is one of good-natured fun, not least of all because the When You See Yourself tour production pre-empts the band’s arrival with a candid-camera pan to various audience members. When the band makes it to the stage, they’re all donning Halloween face paint. Seeing Caleb Followill centre stage in clown make-up is not only a nice touch, it also dissipates any lingering unease.

Caleb, the band’s front person, keeps his words to a minimum and instead lets the songs do the talking. Heading almost instantly into the three-song opening suite from 2004’s beloved Aha Shake Heartbreak is a case of actions speaking louder than words. The flurrying drums of ‘Slow Night, So Long’, the chiming guitar of ‘King of the Rodeo’, the rumbling bass of ‘Taper Jean Girl’ – what else is there to say?

On that note, give the Kings credit where it’s due: even at their rock-starriest, they’ve never denied their past. There’s at least one song from every album on the setlist tonight, save for 2013’s underrated Mechanical Bull – from the snarling, southern-fried rock of ‘Molly’s Chambers’ to last year’s slick, propulsive single ‘The Bandit’. The reaction that classics like ‘The Bucket’ get from fans who’ve followed the band for nearly 20 years is worth the price of admission alone.

Kings Of Leon – ‘The Bucket’

Watching Kings Of Leon in the same venue that’s hosted Gorillaz and Billie Eilish in recent months is a case study in the art of a subtle arena rock show. Yes, they still play ‘Use Somebody’ and ‘Knocked Up’ with every “Woah-oh” intact, but you’re not getting any blaring strobes, any clouds of fog or any pyro (well, except for ‘Pyro’ from 2010’s Come Around Sundown).

Instead, they opt for a handful of arresting visual accompaniments, ranging from a flower withering in slow motion to 3D imagery of the band members rocking out. Throw in some tasteful lighting bouncing off reflective rigging and you’ve got a simple production that gets the point across without going overboard.

The only fumbled ball here comes when Caleb attempts to lead a sing-along to Aha Shake deep-cut ‘Milk’ and the lyrics show up on the centre screen. Only problem is, there’s speakers hanging directly from the ceiling in front of it – meaning most of the lyrics are either partially or completely obfuscated. Probably should have planned ahead, but oh well – it’s nice to hear ‘Milk’ all the same.

Before tonight’s headliners, support act The Temper Trap elicit a specific pang of late 2000s nostalgia. But let the record show, the Melbourne quartet do no miss a step. This tour support slot may be their first run of shows in three years, but the widescreen indie rock band show no signs of rust.

Vocalist Dougy Mandagi has always been softly-spoken and introverted as a performer, which normally wouldn’t work in a vast arena setting. When you possess a voice as idiosyncratic and resonant as his, however, that’s all the stage presence needed. His performances on ‘Trembling Hands’ and ‘Soldier On’ are inspired and heartfelt, accentuating both their subtleties and their grandiose flourishes.

Mandagi’s bandmates perform with keen precision, too, nailing every syncopated handclap on ‘Love Lost’ and revelling in the percussive drive of ‘Drum Song’. When the riff from ‘Sweet Disposition’ rings out, thousands are transported back to high school, uni or some other bygone coming-of-age. Fitting, really, given that song is literally a teenager itself now.

Further Reading

Kings Of Leon: 10 Essentials Tracks

“We Definitely Don’t Have A Kings Of Leon Formula” – Kings Of Leon’s Nathan Followill On New Album ‘When You See Yourself’

Watch Budjerah, Ngaiire And Gretta Ray’s Stunning ‘Sweet Disposition’ Cover

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