“We’ve run from it for a long, long time, but f--- yeah, we’re Southern rock.” Or so says Kings of Leon singer/guitarist Caleb Followill to a sold-out crowd at the Roxy in Atlanta.
One of the most appealing aspects of the Kings of Leon is their classic, we-don’t-give-a-damn attitude—a genuine feeling that drives their intensely powerful brand of rock ’n’ indie roll. But Southern rock they are not. A more apt description of the Tennessee family band might be: The Strokes pick up a few ’60s soul records and listen to Skynyrd’s Street Survivors once before junking it in favor of The Who.
Fellow Tennesseans The Features put on a free-wheeling, loose-around-the-edges, high-energy show, starting things off with a bang. A revved-up, post-punk outfit that utilizes some interesting ’80s-New Wave keyboards and song structures, The Features crank out powerful, catchy tunes that surprise you if you look away too long.
I’m just beginning to think the band’s songs are getting repetitive when all of a sudden a circus organ leaps above the power chords and singer/guitarist Matt Pelham’s shaky voice breaks through with some oddly optimistic lyrics for a glam-punk band—“If you’re happy and you know it, turn the volume up and blow it out.”
Parrish Yaw’s colorful organ and keyboard work on “Blow it Out”—and everything else for that matter—gives the sound a different dimension, elevating The Features beyond others in their genre.
After watching the techs sound-check for about 40 minutes, the lights finally dim (save for the spotlight on the bare-chested Indian drummer backdrop) and Kings of Leon take the stage, getting down in a mean way with “Molly’s Chambers,” the single from their first record, Youth and Young Manhood.
The Kings start out with the throttle to the floor and don’t let up all night. Unpredictable but moving, powerful interludes and breaks pepper the songs—marking the band as a bit more musically sophisticated than its image would have you believe. But don’t get me wrong. This is nasty English rock that’s kicked around in the mud and still gets back up to spit in your eye.
There are brief glimpses of Southern rock. But they come from one guy—cousin Matthew Followill (the rest of the band are brothers). Matthew plays some tasteful backing lines and fleshes out the verses, but when he gets around to his solo, he has no qualms about moving directly into Steve Gaines territory. For some reason, though, he only gets about 15 seconds to do it in each song. All night I felt teased by this amazing guitar player. I reasoned that if I stuck around long enough, he would finally show us what he’s obviously capable of. But, alas, it was not to be. Walking out of The Roxy after this show felt strangely similar to leaving a strip club.
But Kings of Leon put on a Rock show, capital R; the theatre was busting at the seems with energy. Of course, the band could stand to stretch its musical boundaries, but I doubt the Followills give a damn. In the words of Spinal Tap drummer Mick Shrimpton—“so long as there is, you know, sex and drugs I can do without the rock ’n’ roll.”
(pictured at top [L-R]: Matthew and Jared Followill)