by Eric Tullis
Kings of Leon, The Walkmen
Koka Booth Amphitheatre, Cary
Tuesday, April 28
There's been a bit of controversy about last night's Kings of Leon show at Cary's luxuriously wooded Koka Booth Amphitheatre: The Followill brothers decided to ban beach blankets, lawn chairs, beer bottles and water bottles at the show so that, one assumes, people wouldn't pelt the band if they were done with their beverage (I did see some cups headed in the band's direction, though, which I've never seen. And I saw some folks walking around in surgical masks to prevent exposure to swine flu, they said. So, yeah, you rock dudes are crazy.) On one hand, it's a rock show by a band that takes cues from Creedence and Van Morrison and, on record, amps it up with a little new Southern swagger, for better and for worse. So, like, why the fuck would you sit down for that if you're going to pay $45 to see the band. If you'd tried to sit last night, you actually wouldn't have been able to see them, anyway. Remember the whole rock show bit?
I'm also wondering, though, if the Followills banned lawn chairs for fear that people might have fallen asleep last night: Their set—which actually didn't leave many bored—felt more like a cross between a sermon and a confessional than an ordinary rock show. Usually, deserving bands go into their Grammy-award winning songs with a climactic arrogance that behooves songs that won such awards. Not these guys, though. Kings of Leon didn’t hit the stage like they were headlining after The Walkmen’s rather feathery performance. They showed up, instead, like they were on time for a drudge rehearsal. “Sex on Fire” came in like a basic karaoke tune, but only with a family full of country-boy casanovas to give it some humble, backwoods stiffness. For “Milk” and the encore favorite “Knocked Up," drummer Nathan Followill gingered his way through things as if he was trying to avoid breaking a sweat, content instead to watch his brother, Caleb, control the world.
But even Caleb didn’t play or approach the microphone as if he was being waited upon by thousands of people. He was cool and collected, performing as if he was scrimmaging, or rather vocally packing luggage for a pink, oily doomsday. The guy yells, preaches and cries as if it’s for fun. Thing is, it's so much fun that it eventually takes us to a place where we want to be but he doesn’t, where his past and faltering alter-ego—“the Rooster," as he told Rolling Stone—resides. To Caleb, that's a dark, whiskey-and-LSD-filled dungeon that he doesn't like to revisit. Inevitably, "the Rooster" ends up peaking its head into each Kings song via his wandering, troubled warble.
Strong music is supposed to be either heart-breaking or heart-warming, and the Followill brothers master both reactions with about every song—playing them as if they've been enlisted to play the score to any soppy romance flick ever made. Strong reactions... Maybe that's why they were worried about flying beer bottles and burning blankets. Oh, and freaks worried about swine flu and the comfort of their asses at a pretty decent if relaxed rock concert.