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Review: Kings of Leon, Atlanta

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I’ve been itching to see Kings of Leon live since stumbling across them just over two years ago. Until recently, however, the boys have spent most of their time in the U.K., where audiences were quicker to embrace a throwback/progressive Southern rock outfit than American audiences have been.

I had no interest in seeing them as the opening act for U2, but they’ve been headlining their own tour in the U.S. this summer. And last night they stopped at The Tabernacle in downtown Atllanta.

The venue: The Tabernacle is an old Baptist tabernacle that was briefly a House of Blues during the Atlanta Olympics and is now a medium-sized live music venue. A fitting place for the Kings to play, seeing how they are the sons/nephew of a Pentecostal preacher. I’ve been disappointed in the sound quality there in the past, especially when a “popular” band is playing. I think management sometimes simply turns down the volume to avoid hassles from parents after all-ages shows for “popular” acts. Thankfully, the sound for the Kings show was great, filling the room with rich guitar tones and creating nice pressure waves from the bass.

The performance: What struck me most about the Kings set is how tight they were live, at least on the songs that are part of their regular set. Listening to their records, the band comes across as a kind of loose, free-wheeling bunch (I won’t say “jam band”, but the vibe is kind of like an Allman Brothers record). But their set was clean and powerful. At times the boys played with little emotion or energy, but at other times they cut loose and were really feeling the music. Perhaps that’s a reflection of their Pentecostal roots.

Near the end of the set, the boys appeared to venture off the set list, and it showed with a little more sloppy play (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

The set: The Kings opened with Molly’s Chambers, one of their original tunes that appears both on the Holy Roller Novocaine EP and Young and Young Manhood LP. The driving guitars and bass make for a great show-opener. They then drifted quickly into a long run of cuts from Aha Shake Heartbreak, including the hit The Bucket, which they played probably seven or eight songs in.

To me, it’s a test of a band’s worth to see how they treat their hit song live. Saving the hit up for the close of the show comes off as having a lack of confidence in your overall material. Throwing it out early says a band is determined to not be defined by the hit. And I like how the Kings handled both The Bucket and songs from Aha Shake Heartbreak in general.

The Aha Shake songs are the ones most of the audience knows, so the boys met that demand by running off a number of them early in the show. Then, with the stuff people expected to hear out of the way, they went back and picked up their favorite tunes from Youth and Young Manhood. They closed the regular set with Trani, a slow, rambling five-minute cut from Youth and Young Manhood. That was a bold choice for a closer. The song builds up to a furious finish, and they took advantage of that live, but it was still an unexpected but good choice.

For the encore, they opened with Holy Roller Novocaine, followed by what must be a new song (and it was good) before closing with Slow Night, So Long, which to me is the best cut from Aha Shake Heartbreak.

With the encore, the set ran about 1 hour, 15 minutes.

The verdict: A really solid show. The Kings did a really good job of translating the vibe and emotion of their records to a live show.

Unfortunately, the Kings’ five-week run of U.S. shows is about to wrap up (Asheville, NC 8/19 and Nashville 8/20). From there they head, of course, back to the U.K.

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