Kings of Leon | 09.07.06

As usual, the show was highlighted by the work of lead guitar player Matthew Followill, who understands that great note choice goes a long way.

 

w/the Stills
Pops, Sauget, Ill.

The announcement that Kings of Leon were coming through St. Louis in early September was unexpected. The band had already finished a headlining tour in support of 2005's Aha Shake Heartbreak and concluded their stint as openers on U2's megatour, meaning that the September show came along at an interesting point in the band's (potential) evolution: between tours with their sophomore album well in the rearview. Aha Shake Heartbreak was an "if it ain't broke don't fix it" effort, featuring short, punchy, guitar-driven rock songs and few ventures away from the formula that made 2004's Youth and Young Manhood so entertaining. Although Aha Shake Heartbreak was a fine effort, fans and critics have to wonder whether the band will explore new territory on a third release, and this particular show seemed like an opportunity to hear some new material and perhaps get an answer to this question.

After a short set of guitar pop from energetic locals Finn's Motel, Montreal's the Stills took the stage and managed to both pique my interest and bore me senseless. I cant really explain it-they have some great songs, I enjoyed the piano riffs, and they weren't total dullards on stage. These parts somehow fused into a lifeless whole, however, and their dark, brooding brand of '80s-influenced pop-rock didn't really appeal to a crowd that was decidedly pro–Kings of Leon. I'm guessing many were hearing the Stills for the first time, and the energy just wasn't there.

As a result, anticipation was palpably high when Kings of Leon took the stage, and the band didn't disappoint. Consisting of three brothers and a cousin who have enjoyed an almost mythical ascension in the industry, the band is extremely tight. Once you overcome the initial weirdness of having your rock delivered by a frontman who resembles a carb-phobic preteen girl*, it becomes clear that they know how to put on a show.

The band blazed through versions of crowd favorites such as "Wasted Time," "Taper Jean Girl," "Four Kicks," "California Waiting," "The Bucket," and "Pistol of Fire," along with a handful of unrecognized songs that were presumably new. The new material satisfied my curiosity and suggested that the band has in fact been exploring new sounds. In one memorable new song singer Caleb Followill used the wonders of technology to distort his vocals**, eventually trading distorted and natural vocal lines by himself with two microphones.

As usual, the show was highlighted by the work of lead guitar player Matthew Followill, who understands that great note choice goes a long way. He always impresses even though he never solos for more than 30 seconds, and when the band closed with a frenzied "Trani"—along with an encore of "Molly's Chambers" and "Slow Night, So Long"—the crowd went home satisfied, even though the show was a little shorter than expected. The new material sounded fantastic, and if the songs I didn't recognize are the bedrock for a third album, fans have a very interesting (and perhaps very different) Kings of Leon record to look forward to.

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* I actually overheard an astute female observer point out that he was wearing girl pants. Whatever. The dude rocks and he gets laid a lot more than I do. Without question.

** Gearheads, Guitar Center employees, and those of you who arrive at the Rush and Dream Theatre concerts four hours early to gawk at the equipment during load-in: please forgive me for not describing this adequately.

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