Following their sell out shows in Dublin, iconic southern rockers Kings of Leon took the BST Great Oak stage in a triumphant return to the place where it all began.
The mechanical heart that has been displayed on the side screens of KoL’s WALLS tour begin to beat as the effortlessly cool Followill’s are unveiled behind a rising, deep red theatre curtain. For such a grand scale festival, Kings of Leon have a great way of including a sense of intimacy and warmth into their gigs.
The four-piece stand and gaze across the park as raucous applause and screams accumulate for well over 2 minutes before bassist Jared Followill belts out the opening bass line of “Over”. Proceedings speed up as opening track from their sophomore album “Slow Night, So Long” sends the crowd moving. Frontman Caleb Followill yearns for an older, more mature woman after unfulfilling experiences with a younger woman as the band races through the track. Fans have no rest bite as the bass slide of “Kings of the Rodeo” and “The Bucket” carries on the Aha Shake Heartbreak assault.
Crowds screamed to along to the painfully overlooked “Eyes on You” and communal celebratory sounding “Mary” of their 2010 masterpiece Come Around Sundown. As the drumbeat fades out, Caleb exclaims, “I don’t have to work tomorrow, so I’m going to have a lot of fun tonight. I hope you guys join us!”. Making a massive difference to the experience is enhanced and revised production. The bright, slick moving screen animations bounce off the surrounding Hispanic themed bars and restaurants that line the outskirts of the park. It takes a brief second for the eye to focus, but it is instantly blessed with vibrant beauty.
The atmosphere has a wonderful balance of warmth, intensiveness, and celebration. There isn’t any Green Day/U2 pageantry. As Caleb takes out his ever-present pocket handkerchief to mop his brow, the band gear up for a nostalgic ode to home track “Back Down South” and “Milk”. A real demonstration and reminder that Kings of Leon have an array of clouded, blissful catalogue of tracks that only takes a little time and patience in order to find.
“Fans” is the first track from 2007’s Because Of The Times to feature on the setlist before a moment that Kings of Leon fans will never forget. The infamous live video performance of “Trani” at Bonnaroo 2004 has become fan folklore and has featured in every “imagine if” conversation. The wailing country lick that opens the track sent fans clambering for shoulders and friends alike as they treasured every note.
The gentle summer breeze allowed for the next 4 minutes to transport the crowd to a world only the Followill’s know of. As Matthew started the delicate intro to elusive track “Talihina Sky”, many had to take a second listen to actually confirm that KoL were playing this track. This song popped up on several occasions during the Kings’ early career. Initially a hidden track on their debut EP, Holly Roller Novocaine, it featured on the American quartet’s second EP, What I Saw, and was also a hidden track at the end of their debut album, Youth and Young Manhood. Boasting a beautiful melody and emotive lyrics, “the broken train track” in the first line of the track sees Caleb not only addressing a depilated and forgotten town in Oklahoma, but a place where Followill cannot escape it’s clutches.
Unlike the studio version, the slow-burning “WALLS” builds to a highly-charged outro which prompts the rise of the curtain to reveal a larger stage layout and two additional touring auxiliary band members to help add power and fill the space. This signifies the home run and has turned from romanticism into a swaggering arena mode beast. A driving version of WALLS’ most impressive cut “Find Me” followed swiftly after.
“Radioactive” bursts into life as Caleb begins the highly recognisable riff on his luscious walnut Gibson ES-325. As the gig edged further into the night, the Followill’s cut mysterious silhouettes. Coincidental as Jared played the opening synth part to gloomy, gothic hit “On Call”. Thunderous and reciprocative claps followed the distinguishable bass line all throughout the song.
Matthew has developed into a genuine guitar hero now. The amount of energy and precision Matthew placed into the mighty opening riff of “Notion” powered out through the sound system so majestically. Thrashing away with a crisp and catchy blues crunch, Matthew Followill’s guitar solos, riffs, and melodies were captivating. As “Use Somebody” signified the last run of tracks, and every word is screamed back at them.
“I don’t care what nobody says”, croaks Caleb gently over the opening chords of “Knocked Up”. Meandering at over seven minutes long and with nothing that could realistically be identified for a chorus, it’s a dark, downbeat, reflective comparison to the communal track before that. The melancholic “Pyro” is dark and desperate and the dreamy “Cold Desert” is the perfect sentimental counterpart.
From the first opening bars of “Closer” with its weeping guitars, you can hear the space that Nashville band have worked on and perfected. It’s a small space that allows the KoL to prowl and whisper rather than batter and bruise. It gives Caleb a platform to unveil a gravelly growl that only gathers attention. While cousin Nathan Followill worked away on the drums with extra fillers and a spicy, endearing energy, particularly on Crawl.
The evening closed out with “Supersoaker”, “Sex On Fire” and “Waste A Moment”; a trio of tunes so flamboyant they could stir the dead. The bands Nashville heritage is still undeniably evident in their sound as Caleb delivered an unfaltering soulful Southern American sound of ragged harmony – a smoked BBQ of vocals.
It’s curious that Kings Of Leon have kept rising while their one-time benefactors The Strokes fell away. While The Strokes fell towards inactivity, Kings of Leon have worked relentlessly to improve every aspect of their production and get material out there. There is a real drive and determination behind the icy blue eyes of Caleb’s. Having dedicated their lives to their brutally honest and reflective music, BST Hyde Park was a coming of age and has placed them rightly so into the highest echelon of rock royalty.
Words: Matthew Thomas