Impotence, Baldness, and Pop...Kings of Leon Review

Let's all close our eyes, squeeze real hard, and take ourselves back to the last half-way decent time to have ears; 2001. Prep boy group The Strokes have managed to kick the door open for a whole murder of anti-this and underproduced-that garage band blackbirds. The White Stripes get a floodlight cast on their juicy back catalogue, with ultra-satisfying results. The Hives are hot-wired into our pelvises with an EP collection that ultimately triggars a semi-global fun-spree. Then, a southern American quartet got in on the action; Kings of Leon. While some would falter with repetitive sophmore efforts, others would be propelled to super-stardom with careful celebrity dating and an "army" anthem. Only one would continue their "alternative" tradtional grassroots approach to media, their hands-off image maintenance, and score a perfect 10 with their second album. And last night, at Toronto's Kool Haus, they showed us it wasn't just production magic either...

When Kings of Leon released Aha Shake Heartbreak, the world was a different place than it was when they dropped their debut. The world was still digesting Usher's fifth single. Hip Hop had again saturated the Billboard Top Ten (Ludacris lending his talent to any track that didn't already have a rap breakdown in the middle.) Britney was making plans to gain 100 pounds. And Kings of Leon had been swiftly demoted to the ranks of college radio darlings.

Flying stealth-like beneath the radars of the year previous, they managed to come up with a brilliant album. It's a collection of thoughtful swagger, capped with full pop punches to the chin, and the occasional sweet heart-wrencher. It's the album that every band wants to make. And one that their peers could never realize. As well, to a limited extent, I don't think some of these successes have been heard before.

Vocalist/lyricist/guitarist Caleb Followill sings in a lost southern drawl so thick that one hasn't too hard a time picturing him toothless, with a jug of moonshine near at hand, spooning with a relative. Until his careful lyrics are deciphered. I mean, he sings with such honest, first hand delicate ways, that his patterns are unrepeatable. And when I say honest, I mean he sings compassionately about going bald and being erectionally challenged. That's got to be a first in rock history.

When much anticipated openers, Secret Machines, cancelled, the Kings were forced to step in early. At 9:30 they began their 90 minute set. Immediately, they showed their tour-hardened precision, hitting their sharp beats with perfect synchronicity. Caleb's voice retains the same shot dog qualities live as he does on his recordings. In fact, he stretches his squeaks even longer. The band emotes a nice "working band" presence; very short breaks between songs, no talking except to thank the audience, and no ego pumping break before the encore. And, with only two albums in their set list, they played everything you might need to hear. And with no gloss, pinpointing why The Killers should actually be braiding Kings of Leon's hair for a living. "Soft", "Kicks" and "Holy Roller Novocain" made you want to trade your legs for a pogo stick. "Trannies" was a slightly extended version, and a wonderful closer for the opening set. The only new song performed was slick as an oily demon, with stripped down bass line verses that were immediately catchy.

The sound at Kool Haus was, as usual, excellent. The show eventually sold out (the day of, I believe.) And we didn't have to drink out of plastic cups for once (I always end up pouring them on the couple in front of me some reason, ruining their date.)

The unglorious fact is: Kings of Leon probably have to tour for the money alone. So, they will probably be back in Toronto in less than a year. If you don't go, that's ok. Just don't pretend to care about music anymore. Because you don't.

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