Kings of Leon at the 3Arena, Dublin, on July 1st 2017
Kings of Leon, like Coldplay, are one of those strange bands that seem to be more popular than ever before despite the fact that you can’t find anyone who likes them anymore. Or rather who admits to liking them.
Indeed, most conversations about Kings of Leon these days seem to revolve around who stopped listening to them first…you know, the “No, I hated them before you” hipster crowd that turns everything into a competition. But anybody that can evoke such passionate reactions – positive or negative – must be doing something right, or at least used to.
In an audacious move Kings of Leon rolled into Dublin for three shows at the 3Arena – whilst not unheard of, it’s certainly unusual. With a potential audience of 38,000 this is effectively a stadium date with three sleepovers, rather than the expected ‘wham bam thank you ma’am’ of a rock band rolling out of town as quickly as they arrived.
Tonight’s set is a sprawling 27 songs that covers every corner of Kings of Leon’s back catalogue, meaning that even that hatiest of haters would find some solace in this performance.
And it’s hard to fault Kings of Leon in terms of performance. Caleb Followill wouldn’t exactly be revered for his diction but tonight his vocal is crisp and note-perfect throughout, and he shines on the more solemn numbers such as Walls.
In the last days of guitar heroes, it was impressive to see somebody as capable as Matthew Followill wrangle a wide range of sounds out of his Les Paul, utilising a number of different playing styles. Similarly impressive was the criminally underrated bassist Jared Followill, whose work provides the hook that reels you in on most of Kings of Leon’s best work.
The show focuses mostly on their new album ‘WALLS’ and 2008’s ‘Only By The Night’, the former’s material coming off much rawer and all the better for it, stripped live of its studio wizardry, with Over and Around The World in particular benefiting. The latter’s material, dripping with big riffs, choruses and hooks, showcases why Kings of Leon became a stadium outfit in the first place.
Perhaps surprisingly for an Irish audience, 14 of the 27 songs are post-Sex On Fire era. Considering ‘Come Around Sundown’ and ‘Mechanical Bull’ didn’t really make much of an impact here, it would’ve made more sense to play more than three songs from the infinitely more popular ‘Because of The Times’ album, as the crowd did become noticeably listless during lesser-known material. Then again, you can understand why Kings of Leon would reward the fans who stuck with them by playing more modern material.
The show opened promisingly with a career spanning one-two of Over and The Bucket before setting a good pace with tracks Such as Manhattan, Around The World, Notion, Fans and Use Somebody. At this point the show felt like Kings of Leon where about to move up into fifth gear and let rip.
Instead, the curtain comes down and the pace is reset to zero as Caleb delivers an impressive acoustic version of Runner, as the stagehands furiously reset the stage around him. The band come back onstage for a twee, campfire version of Comeback Story before disappearing behind the curtain once more as Caleb goes all Springsteen on the slow-burning Walls. The curtain lifts as the band kick-in, revealing the new stage set-up and two additional musicians who had been slightly obscured by the original stage dressing.
However, Kings of Leon struggle to bring the 3arena back up to the energy levels the crowd displayed before the curtain came down following Use Somebody. On Call, Molly’s Chambers and Milk shine, but they are surrounded by material that feels generic in comparison to those tracks and the pre-curtain set. Family Tree is a playmobile blues stomp, and Revered feels like the less-polished, bullied younger brother of songs Kings of Leon have already played tonight. The set hits rock-bottom with the yawn-inducing Pickup Truck. Cold Desert is by far the best of the numbers on Kings of Leon’s slow-burning detour, but really a one song pit-stop would have more than sufficed.
The fuzz bass throng of Crawl brings the set back to life like a shot of adrenaline through Mia Wallace’s veins. Supersoaker acts accordingly, before the ubiquitous Sex On Fire provides the stadium rock money shot – say what you like about this song, but if you were there you were singing it.
It’s hard to fault Kings of Leon’s application tonight – the playing and singing was faultless throughout, yet the set never arrived at the heights it indicated it would early on. The second half of the set contained far too many slow-burning numbers for it not to feel a little repetitious at times – and it’s not as if Kings of Leon are exactly lacking in up-tempo material to choose from.
It’s a pity, because Kings of Leon were in fine fettle – the playing and performance was great, but the set-list hamstrung the show somewhat, preventing it from being the occasion it should’ve been. But Kings of Leon are just a few tweaks away from a killer show.