Kings of Leon
Target Center, Minneapolis
Thursday, March 6, 2014
The Kings of Leon have come a long way since the start of their year-long hiatus. And by that, we just mean they're no longer ditching shows three songs in due to drunkenness or pigeon shit. Otherwise, they're still stuck in the same, tired routine. At their Target Center stop on the Mechanical Bull tour last night, the Followill brothers and cousin stayed on their respective sides of the stage, made little effort to engage the crowd (or one another, for that matter), and Caleb sort of looked like he wanted to die.
They did make a few winning choices, however. The first of which was choosing to tour with Grammy-winning guitarist Gary Clark Jr., who kicked off the night with a versatile compilation of blues, funk and R&B. One minute, Clark was spitting out dynamic guitar solos, and the next, he was singing in falsetto for an R&B ballad, inspiring drunk girls in the pit to slow dance.
Hardly anyone in the crowd seemed to know who Clark was, proven by numerous overheard remarks -- the most ridiculous being, "Is this Kings of Leon?" But by the end of his set, Clark had gained an arena's worth of fans. He said it best himself in his hit "Bright Lights" with the words, "You gonna know my name by the end of the night."
And it was true, if for no other reason than that his was the only other name on the ticket. Clark received a standing ovation and during the break, you couldn't go more than ten seconds without hearing someone comment on his chops. Clark has the whole package -- he's beautiful, wears tasteful man scarves, destroys the six string, and could probably make a career as a singer alone.
If only we could say the same for the Kings.
The set started out well enough, perhaps because the band was concealed behind a massive translucent wall of fabric for the first song. As they played through "Charmer," video clips of a wolf chasing a girl in a white dress were projected onto the massive screen behind the fabric wall, which was almost entertaining enough to fool us into thinking Caleb was singing in a coherent manner, but not quite. He mumbled through the entire song as though he was drunk, tired of trying, or a combination of the two. Not a good way to start.
After the second song, Caleb addressed the audience. "Thank y'all very much. We're Kings of Leon," he said. The crowd screamed so loud, you'd swear they'd forgotten.
For the next few songs, the screen in the background projected massive images of the Kings' faces, which didn't do much to remedy the lack of enthusiasm, so it was time to take a few minutes to look around the arena. A Seth Rogen lookalike a few rows up appeared to be having an orgasm. Two girls on the floor were sending blurry Snapchats. Just beside us, a middle-aged man made metal horns and indulged in non-stop interpretive dancing.
A young, zombified woman suddenly appeared in the front row and her demeanor stuck us as a perfect representation for the entire show. She was beautiful, but dead-eyed. She swayed back and forth to the music, but didn't appear to be taking anything in. When we looked over at her a few songs later, her boyfriend was repeatedly slapping her ass to the beat and she didn't appear to notice.
Things livened up with "Family Tree," when a trippy series of neon-colored crosses and naked women flashed on the screen. Unfortunately, Caleb's emotionless face was projected in the center. During "Closer," Matthew played with his lips pressed against his guitar strings, still somehow managing to look as bored as ever, as sperm-like Gumby creatures swayed back and forth on the screen.
After "The Immortals," Caleb threw his guitar pick into the crowd, sparking the first of many mad dashes to find a tiny plastic triangle."You guys are so much better than last night's crowd," he slurred into the mic before incoherently mumbling for a few seconds.[page]
Caleb smiled for the first time all night when he traded his electric for an acoustic guitar to play "Back Down South," but most people in our section were too busy looking at the middle-aged interpretive dancing man to notice. After the track, Caleb again addressed the crowd, this time to tell us what we already knew. "We've spent a lot of fuckin' money on these screens, so we might as well have some fun," he said.
Halfway through the set, the songs blended into commercialized mush and our eyes glazed over, perhaps partially due to the increasingly thick layer of weed smoke. The screen distracted from the banality of "Supersoaker" with a compilation of clips featuring bare-breasted and scantily clad pin-up girls. The same was true for "Pyro," which featured -- you guessed it -- fire and a naked woman.
Another distracting mechanism came in the form of fluffy bubbles drifting down from the ceiling during "Cold Dessert," turning the crowd into a bunch of kids trying to catch fireflies barehanded.
"Use Somebody" was the last tune before the Kings' three-song encore, and we took another moment to check in with our crowd favorites. The interpretive dancing man was drenched with sweat, but still going at it. The Seth Rogen lookalike was gyrating against his lady friend, while fist pumping in tandem with the man behind him. The Snapchat girls were too drunk to Snapchat. For a second, we wondered if we had just witnessed a massive brainwashing.
After a few minutes of desperate encore screams from the crowd, the Kings returned to play "Crawl," "Black Thumbnail," and "Sex on Fire," the latter of which was taken a little too seriously by some audience members who appeared to be having sex through their clothing. Try as we might to shield our virgin eyes, the flashing lights made it too painful to look at the stage and we were stuck either closing our eyes or watching 20-somethings reenact their middle school dance experiences.
But something clicked halfway through "Sex on Fire" and before you could say, "Don't drink the Kool-Aid," we found ourselves smiling and nodding for the first time all night. Were they casting spells? Ejecting poisonous gas from the smoke machines? Nah. Caleb Followill just wrote an extremely infectious pop song.[page]
We'd like to take a moment to give a round of applause to the biggest star of the night -- the massive screen behind the Kings of Leon, which transformed the lackluster concert into a trance-inducing, two-hour music video. Though seated close to the front, we still found ourselves looking more at the graphics than at the band members themselves. In fact, the whole night was about distractions, from the smoke machines, to the bubbles, to the bright lights and videos -- everything felt like a ploy to detract from the band's lackluster demeanor.
It's not that they played poorly. Quite the contrary, actually. Their musicianship was flawless and Caleb clearly has a gift for live singing, he just doesn't appear to care about, well, anything.
Throughout the night, we witnessed little to no interaction between band members, besides a single chat between Matthew and Jared, presumably over volume levels. Even worse, there was hardly any movement from the stage, except by the band's not-so-secret fifth member, Christopher Coleman, who played his assortment of instruments from behind an unlit cage of speakers. Matthew made the biggest trek, victoriously wandering from one side of the stage to the other at one point, but his jeans were too tight for much more. Other than that, the most exciting moment of the show was when a chunk of Jared's perfectly manicured hairdo sprang loose and flopped around on the top of his head for the rest of the night.
Crowd: A mix of Ed Hardy addicts, scenesters, plaid-clad 20-somethings, and middle-aged folks who probably have "Sex on Fire" and "Use Somebody" on their jogging playlists.
Overheard: "You know who Gary Clark Jr. is?" "Sure, he's Gary Clark Senior's kid."
Critic's bias: I was a fan of Aha Shake Heartbreak in high school. Also, I think my dad likes "Sex on Fire."
Notebook dump: The Kings of Leon wish they were Gary Clark Jr... their cold demeanor even ruined "Molly's Chambers" and "The Bucket."
Also, I learned that hash now comes in wax form and you can smoke it in what looks and smells like an e-cig during concerts. Innovative!
Back Down South
Wait for Me
Sex on Fire