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The International Writers Magazine: Rock

Kings of Leon
Aby Davis review

On the 10th of December 2007, the Kings of Leon opened their Birmingham NIA set in a burst of yowling voice and raunchy guitar. I bought tickets two weeks earlier, in a moment of impassioned impulse , while a friend with a car reckoned she could make the four hour drive north. Then, panicking because I had a deadline the day after and her car was a bit of an old banger, we tried to sell on the tickets....desperately seeking Kings Of Leon fans who weren’t too poor or busy. We failed, and I am so glad we did.
The kings stomped the stage looking considerably better groomed than on the cover of first album ‘Youth and Young Manhood’, and a lot smaller than you see on the telly. This was most likely because our seats were so far back, and the NIA was so very big. None the less, the sound was loud enough, dirty enough, thumpingly tuneful enough to make up for the seemingly diminutive players. Below us was a mass of dark moving bodies, tiny people in grungy colours and the occasionally red rain mac. My mind wanders during live music, I can’t ever seem to concentrate, gig goers are just so interesting. A lot of the people in the pulsing pit below had mobile phones, and their little blue screens lit up the floor like upside down constellations. Far from being distracting however, the stars down there only added to the atmosphere up here. The band played in front of moving black and white images of bulls, and the reflected crowd, and shiny mirror balls put bright spots on all our faces.
The Kings of Leon were born and raised in the American deep south, two following their preacher father around and occasionally being allowed to play the drums in church meetings. Their music has gritty southern tones, and nods to old school rock, and what’s great about a lot of their songs is that even if you don’t know the words you can make sounds that sound like them. ‘YOOOWWWWW! She’s so charming oh no!" We mouthed along to the last song, as the moody black and white visuals displayed a mostly nude pole dancer with strange tattoos. Not exactly the sort of thing the Kings grew up knowing about in their preacher’s son existence.

It is obvious that the Kings of Leon are a live band, they wasted no time talking to the audience. No introduction to the songs, or even themselves, no ‘this one’s for my mom’ or even a ‘hello Birmingham!’. No, the band gave us the songs we love and left the stage, coming back once for a three song long encore. I dreaded the idea that they may mostly play new stuff, being a skint student I still haven’t got round to purchasing the latest instalment in the bands collection, so I was very relieved when Bucket came on. This blood fizzing wallop of guitar rifts and a wistful story of growing up is arguably one of the best songs on Aha Shake Heartbreak, the album described by Rolling Stone as a "fuzz encrusted rocket of controlled violence". Violence has never seemed so appealing. In a day and age when The Spice Girls are allowed to come back, it is incredibly refreshing to sit in a gig with music that sounds like it was unearthed from underneath an old bar in the old west, like it was scratched about a bit and Led Zeppelin coughed on it.

The Kings of Leon are keen on reinvention, although saying that makes me think of Madonna and grow a little uneasy. What the Kings do however, is far simpler than changing a hairstyle and employing a rapper.On the bands website, lead singer Caleb Followill says "because we were trying to make a different sounding record, we had to sit back and listen to each other a bit more". Because Of The Times is the most diverse album the band have yet made. With songs jumping from a little bit skanky, to beautifully sweet. Caleb has this voice that grates and growls, he used it to mesmerising affect in Birmingham. The first, almost ethereal, bars of On Call, a single from Because Of the Times were met with sighs and woops from the crowd, who ignited a few more camera phones and swayed a little harder. There were a few jumpers in the front row, you get those at most gigs. Where stand kids who don’t enjoy music unless they have a permanent stitch and no breath left. We, on the other hand, felt perfectly at ease to sit on the bars above our seats and munch apples.

It took about five hours to drive back that night, without a proper map and a car that sometimes didn’t start. To stay awake on the journey home, we tried to list all the songs we knew with strange sounds in them, it was a long journey and the game was played with the sort of tired hysteria you get when you’re little and have orange squash before going to bed. I still had a deadline the next day, and was likely to have just a few hours sleep, but as Kings of Leon say, (or appear to say anyway) "well well well, well well well, well well well, yoo hoo!".
© Aby Davis December 13th 2007
Aby is our resident reviewer at Hacks and studying Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth

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