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There is a fine line between showmanship and posturing, and Kings of Leon sometimes find themselves slipping too far towards the latter. The Tennessee band, currently finishing a headlining run in support of 2013’s tepid effort Mechanical Bull, has evolved from a homegrown Southern rock outfit to a radio-ready act, aiming for different sorts of accolades than when they first started. So at times during KOL’s concert at the Hollywood Bowl Friday night there was a sense of dramatic posing, like when guitarist Matthew Followill performed much of “Closer” with his guitar strings in his mouth as Jared Followill jauntily leaned his bass off his hip, arms flexing under a tight white tee-shirt.
Still, the group, which has six albums under its collective belt, has earned a faithful following, one who cheers no matter how much it seems like the Followill clan has grown bored of playing songs like “Use Somebody” and “Sex On Fire” for the umpteenth time. And the audience, luckily, feels no boredom for the material at all. Clocking in at less than two hours and 23 songs, KOL’s set was aptly constructed for these fervent fans, balancing older and newer hits and leaving few pauses or moments of silence between them.
The production was scant — too much gear cluttered the Bowl’s grandiose stage, giving a haphazard appearance to the performance’s backdrop. Only a video screen and a few moving light fixtures above the stages offered any semblance of visuals accompaniment to the music. The disheveled set-up emphasized that despite KOL’s ongoing evolution they remain far more rock ‘n’ roll than pop. In fact, the musicians continue to embrace their rock and country roots when performing. “Don’t Matter,” off Mechanical Bull, was a good example of Kings of Leon at their best, the boisterous song offering the band an opportunity to show off their skills and, especially, their surging guitar riffs. “Fans,” too, revealed the musicians’ inherent country twang as frontman Caleb Followill riffed on an acoustic guitar.
For fans, the highlight of the evening arrived toward the end of the set, as Caleb announced that the band has been playing one songs specifically for each city of the tour — and only for that city. “We don’t play piano,” he noted, gesturing toward an upright piano set-up on stage right. “So we brought Chris Martin.” The Coldplay frontman, who reportedly was accompanied to the show by girlfriend Jennifer Lawrence, emerged to duet on “Talihina Sky,” the hidden track off the band’s 2003 debut Youth and Young Manhood. Martin remained at the piano to help perform “Notion.” As he exited, Caleb told the audience, “I hope you enjoyed that. It cost us a lot of money.”
Despite the jokes, it was one of the show’s most genuine moments, something harkened to earlier in the show when a six-piece string section joined the band for a lengthy, sprawling rendition of “Knocked Up.” The song, which clocks in at over seven minutes on 2007’s standout album Because Of The Times, allowed the musicians to let loose and fall into the music, playing instead of posing. The set overall felt big, filling the space in the Bowl and connecting with the fans, but Kings of Leon also seemed tired. Which may explain why Caleb hinted at a possible hiatus following this tour.
“We’re coming to the end of our tour,” Caleb said midway through the concert, after shouting out opening bands Kongos and Young The Giant. “We’ve been on it for a long time. One of the other bands on the tour is leaving us tonight. They’re gonna keep going and we’re gonna quit.” He paused, then added, “Not forever, but…”
The band may not have quite given it their all, but it was more than enough for the audience, who cheered wildly for songs like “Crawl” and “Supersoaker,” and devolved into a frenzy for “Sex On Fire” as the final rollicking song. The fans, it seems, can look through the occasional posturing and see the genuine musicianship the band was founded on.
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