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Culture, Music
Kings of Leon

Imperial Rock

by Andy Davis / 28.10.2011

The 5FM box presented by Nokia, or some kak like that, is right at the top of the Cape Town Stadium, in the corner, looking across the huge white salad bowl. The stage, from here, is about the size of a letterbox. You can barely make out the band and have to rely heavily on the video walls. The sound too, is soupy and ill-defined; an ear-ringing warble and echo version of the Kings of Leon hits. Experientially, it’d be better to watch their live DVD on a flatscreen in your lounge. Thanks God for the free bar and the abundance of snacks. Invariably I find myself wishing I was down in the front row, or at a sports match. The Romans had this collosseum shit down. I want to be on the edge of my seat watching people fight for their lives. Instead I live in these stale plastic decades and I’m congregated with the rest of white, moneyed Cape Town watching some overplayed pop-rockstars turn out their hits, as close to the album versions as possible, as they regularly do around the world, night after night, city after city. The whole thing is ersatz. I find myself looking out the top of the stadium, at the hovering clouds, lit up by the lights of the city, hoping for a tsunami, an earthquake or the final kamikaze nose-dive of the financial system to put the confused averageness of the global pop entertainment machine to death.

There are, however, 5 girls in the 5FM VIP birthday box presented by Nokia who are having a good time. They look like promo girls, but maybe a touch too young and devoid of the self-consciousness that defines promo-girls. They’re running around with a kind of manic, unfettered glee, perma-posing with the b-team 5FM DJs, capturing the evening every 30 seconds on their cellphones and making regular trips to the bar for sweet alcoholic drinks. All in all it’s a bit too much euphoria for the sanitized PR environment, but they’re oblivious to the wide eyes and knowing half-smiles of the establishment. I ask the closest girl if they won a prize.
“Ja!” She shouts. “We’re from Durban, we’re in matric, my friend won the 5FM birthday prize by answering her phone ‘happy birthday 5FM’ and they flew us out here and are putting us up in the most amazing hotel and these VIP tickets to the Kings of Leon and it’s just amazing! High five!”
And with that she slaps my upheld hand, hard, turns around and jumps into a grindy-dance-whoop with her girlfriends leaving me feeling, well jaded. An image pops into my head of an OCD 18 year old school girl in Durban answering every phone call with, “happy birthday 5FM” but it’s hard to be judgmental in the whirlwind of all that euphoria. I end up defaulting towards nostalgia for my 18 year old self, red-lining on teenage hormones and excitement for the moment. When it didn’t matter if you were into the band, or liked the music, or had the t-shirt. A time when the opportunity was everything and the culture was just a backdrop for hooking up, getting drunk, being independent and having the time of your life. For them, it’s really not about the music, the Kings of Leon just provide a globally accepted and agreed upon space of hype for the youth to be young in.

Kings of Leon

I look out over the sea of people and wonder, is it the end for us? 1st world, 99% white Cape Town can’t even fill the stadium properly. Mzansi’s 1%. Occupy this. From up above, the view of the majority of the crowd crammed up against the fence of the golden circle just makes me sad. The way the poorer cunts were stuck up against the wealth barrier, halfway from the stage, still trying to partake in the communion of globo-culture but never being allowed to forget where they fit in the hierarchy. Varying degrees of “have”. Every level of the gig is compartmentalised, packaged and sold based on a perceived value. If you’re oblivious to this, or a big fan, you can have a good time. But we’ve come a long way from Woodstock. This is global cultural imperialism at it’s finest; the rubber glove on the cold, lubed finger of capitalism. You can just imagine the conversations that brought the Kings of Leon to the Southern tip of Africa. The Followill cousins and brothers are just kicking around their palace in Nashville talking about their next global tour when their manager runs in and says, “guess what guys? We’re going to South Africa!”
“South Africa, no shit man? Cool!” Whines Anthony Caleb Followill with his plaintif rising inflection. “Reckon we can fill a stadium there?”
“You betcha!” Says the manager. “They got all those big ‘uns left over from that soccer thing.”
“Alrighty then. Let’s do it.” The family chime in with a hipster yeehaw!
But then you can only imagine how shocked they were when they came on stage and it looked like fucken Belgium out there. A sea of whiteys.
“Hey Cape Town, We’re Kings of Leon!” Shouts Anthony, still kind of flabbergasted by what he’s seeing. Must be a bummer to think you’re coming to play in Africa and thinking you’re this new world crosser of cultures, breaker of barriers and unifier of peoples of divergent histories and then finding out that you’re really just playing to the same constituency who dig your shit from San Francisco to Reading.

The one thing Kings of Leon do have is songs. Clearly identifiable vibes. Uniquely different tunes that can stand alone. Some might even call them hits. This is really what separates them from the South African pretenders who clutter the local scene, producing music in the similar vein of contemporary pop-rock. But for me despite a clutch of good songs, Kings of Leon are really just a hick, country Coldplay with a bit more rock in their set, enjoying the global amplification of Hollywood’s sub-woofer.

Kings of Leon

By now the matric girls are leaning over the glass railing of the box screaming, shouting and rabble rousing with the plebs in gen-pop. They’ve basically created a dance circle that transcends the barrier. The 5FM camera guy has abandoned his rig and made the decision to mack on the matric girl with the dirtiest dance styles, full-time. Soundwise, all we can really distinguish up here is Anthony Followill’s trademark yelp harmonies over the soup, but it’s enough. The ephemera of live international tunes can still make you feel good. I’m not sure if it’s all the radio play Kings of Leon get, or that NLP production voodoo they use in Hollywood, but the gig is kind of coming into its own and it’s starting to feel like we might be part of something as the Kings of Leon trott out their hits building up to “Sex On Fire”.

But it’s hit and miss, there’s something kind of impotent about the show. Kind of like a song about great sex. It’s nice to be reminded but it’s still trite and wanky. Everything only comes together on certain tracks. Momentary flashes of lucidity. The camera man is moving in for the kill on the dirty dancing matric girl. His arm is floating over her shoulder, about to pull her towards him, but he’s hesitating and the arm is left suspended awkwardly, until he just brings it down to his side and pretends to rock out with forced abandon. The dirty dancing matric girl is now leaning over the railing, she just wants to party. Maybe it’s a metaphor for the whole gig. Finally they play “Sex On Fire” and it’s good, as we knew it would be. And then people start leaving. King Leon pretends to pack up and does the whole play play encore thing, waiting for the crowd to chant them back on stage for the final 3 songs. From Somerset Road we watch the fireworks over our shoulders, trying to beat the rush of humanity down the fan walk.

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  1. Derek says:

    Post modern Mahala – have no interests, slam everything.

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  2. Po says:

    Hate it when wankers like Derek try to reduce complex thoughts to simple soundbites

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  3. Nick says:

    This entire review is a tsunami of stupid. Who the fuck says “ersatz”?

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  4. cnut says:

    What has become with Mahala and it’s ‘oh so uberly pseudo cool judgementalistic jingo’ trash writers… every one sounds the same?

    Are you muppets writing from a Roger Young blue-print or is this a serious attempt to be individuals?

    And that’s Rhetorical!

    Get a grip you clones and entertain!

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  5. Andy says:

    I do… I read a lot of Philip K Dick. You should too

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  6. KOL says:

    You are only going to hear negative comments from KOL whores, this was probably more entertaining than the actual show. I dont think I would have enjoyed it with all the jocks jumping around like excited teenagers.

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  7. Andy says:

    cnut I’m loving the liberties you take with language and grammar – shit, even for Mahala that’s extreme. Well done. Amidst all that I am even more surprised you dropped the word Rhetorical with a capital “R” maybe you can explain to Nick what “ersatz” means…

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  8. Andy says:

    “A stadium full of Paul Wards.” – Roger Young

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  9. Nas Who says:

    “A time when the opportunity was everything and the culture was just a backdrop for hooking up, getting drunk, being independent and having the time of your life” – Jeezus. This is probably the best bit of writing I’ve seen on this site in… maybe ever.

    Intelligent, engaging, amusing. Very nice piece. I won’t be in a private box [har-dee-har] when I see Kings of Leon tomorrow night. I’ll be in the crowd. Here’s hoping the experience is more glamorous among the plebs.

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  10. Krystle says:

    Well gee whiz – the dark abyss where your soul should be is showing. X

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  11. syd willow says:

    Yes Mahala comes basted with cynicism. But, Davis has a point. They were boring…

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  12. Jimbo says:

    The more I read this piece, the more I agree, but hey, we can’t all impress the critics of Mahala now can we. This piece is just an opinion of someone who was there, so don’t take it so seriously peeps. If he’s dark and morbid then let him be, if he’s happy with the sun shining out his ass then let him be. Like it or don’t like it, I don’t think he’ll give a shite, just like Kings of Leon won’t give a shite about this review and carry on doing what they do best, try to entertain people…

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  13. Lizzy says:

    i did like the little anecdote about the lecherous cameraman – it felt so accurate…

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  14. Syngyn Smythe says:

    I agree with the writer, his observations were spot on even though he was perched away in the “VIP” Box? I mean really, what the fuck. 5FM has got to be the biggest suck hole radio station ever! There is a reason they call it “Golden circle” you imbeciles, it’s the best seats in the house! If you win tickets you’d expect it to be golden circle.
    This whole funking elitist VIP bull shit thing sux donkey balls. And yes the status quo in SA and the whole Rockstar scene is as lame as a limp dick. I feel sorry for, musicians churning out there live shit as if they were constipated, but hey, that’s Rock ‘n Roll.
    As for Kings of Leon, I like their music, thought the show was good. But it must of been awesome to see them live before they were Rockstars.

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  15. Scotty D says:

    i have to agree with andy on the sound. i could have been listening to the songs on my cd player at home. personally i think its great when guys use a live show to experiment a little bit but during the show every note they played was the same as the CD.

    i also agree that 99% of the people at the show were white and so much for playing for africans in africa, but who the hell else could afford the R400 or R600 tickets. if they wanted to play for normal south africans they would have made it more accessible to people by lowering ticket prices or something. i guess in USA or europe the only people who can watch them play are also well off.

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  16. NLP Consumer Zombie says:

    “I’m not sure if it’s all the radio play Kings of Leon get, or that NLP production voodoo they use in Hollywood, but the gig is kind of coming into its own”

    Kak funny line, but I wonder how much of this shit actually goes down in marketing…


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  17. cnut says:

    Andy… oh the irony of your retort in context of my comment… you must be feeling rather foolish… or not!

    How is your Zulu prose?

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  18. Andy says:

    not cnut… struggling to follow your logic. My Zulu prose is kak.

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  19. cnut says:

    Well then my English grammar ain’t that bad is it Zulinghu!


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  20. ERRR says:

    While I quite enjoy the cynicism (no matter how predictable), I have to embarrassingly admit that I kind of agree with cnut. You are all starting to write/sound like increasingly boring clones of one another. What’s going on? I sincerely hope it’s just a momentary phase that’ll pass.

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  21. bubu says:

    kings of leon are nothing but a boyband with guitars.they are are fucken dismal to say the least though in all fairness with the shit kinda bands south african folks are partial to i can see their appeal.

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  22. Andy says:

    Sorry Peter, I mean cnut, if you are a first language Zulu speaker, my humble apologies for teasing you for your bad grammar.

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  23. Mike Scott says:

    That first sentence was pretty sweet. Made me chuckle. Too much consumerism stuff to barely notice these days. Its all just … brands. Vomit.

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  24. Anonymous says:

    kings of leon are so kak, seriously.

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  25. Julius Skweeza says:

    Hey Andy and Scotty. Guess what, if millions of black South Africans had loads of money, they still wouldn’t fork out 300 bucks to see KOL. Why, because this has nothing to do with economics and everything to do with culture. Black folks don’t go for white-boy rock and they probably never will – that’s just a cultural fact.

    You are falling into the trap that the ANCYL have dug for the entire nation – the insinuation that the cultural preferences of whites are synonymous with their perceived economic hegemony. If whites hang out together and are not seen to be obviously integrating themselves with other races, then that is read as repression and exploitation. By logical extension then, cultural activities normally preferred predominantly by whites are seen as equally evil as the economic disparities in our land.

    What the fuck happened to diversity as a concept valued by all? What happened to cultural tolerance and an attitude that seeks to find merit in all things?

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  26. Dom says:

    KoL in Cape Town was surprisingly disappointing as I had not expected much and got even less. The sound was incredibly bad – could not hear the lead or rhythm guitars once so only heard half of every song – and the band needs a frontman; not much energy on stage and they looked bored, jaded and sick of playing their hits like a karoake band. That stadium should not be used for musical performance and I actually feel sorry for the bands and sound engineers trying to tame the impossible acoustics…
    …enough bitching then.

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  27. brandon says:

    “This is global cultural imperialism at it’s finest; the rubber glove on the cold, lubed finger of capitalism.” – please stop it Andy. You utter fucking hack.

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  28. Rory says:

    Good stuff Andy

    A view of the commercialised music industry with its bubble gum exterior removed. The fingers of marketing have found their way into every aspect of our lives and the unthinking masses have no realisation of it.

    Nowadays talent and skill dont create a band’s popularity and following. Rather, the amount of radio airtime does, the afore mentioned airtime is bought and wangled by music companies and their agents.

    Their marketing teams devise formulas for music that will have “broad appeal” and then these bands are sold to stations, guaranteeing them listenership, which in turn guarantees them an audience for their advertising (which is where the radio stations make their money). Think of bands like KOL as the chicken of the music world. Everything tastes like it and it doesn’t offend anyone.

    What happens next is that people assume the music they hear on radio is “good” because “it’s the radio station’s job to bring me the best music, right?”. And then mediocre gets worshipped as brilliant, and the human race gets a little dimmer.

    so all in all a good article andy, if you guys want to read some happy, unaware bullshit, read the YOU magazine.

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  29. Gerrit says:

    This is shocking… The Joburg show was intense! The sound was the best I’ve ever heard and the video guys knew what they were doing! The crowd was 50 000 strong and the vibe was intoxicating…

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  30. Dean says:

    Did you know that if you watch Godzilla backwards, it’s actually a heart-warming story about a giant, friendly lizard that helps rebuild a half broken down city and goes around putting out fires and then moonwalks into the ocean. Lovely!

    When people finally recognize that this is how the bible should be read, they’ll learn that Moses was basically a dodgy labour broker who structured jobs in Egypt for a whole bunch of homeless people who were lost in the desert. The workers, so unhappy with the exploitative rates Moses had negotiated for them in Egypt, revolted. Eventually they shrunk him down; put him in a reed basket and floated him down the Nile River.

    The moral of the story is that Moses eventually got what he had coming to him and so will Andy Davis for not writing a favourable opinion-piece on the greatest rock ‘n roll band to exist since Nickleback. Fuck you Mahala for having an opinion and making me read stuff I don’t agree with. Who do you think you are?

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  31. ah ah ah says:

    naed eno doog

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  32. bubu says:

    jesus that person who wrote the timeslive piece would even turn a pro-lifer.

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  33. Andy says:

    Dean for the win! Can i buy you a drink?

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  34. Pierre says:

    Great write – sums up my thoughts exactly. Big bands in big venues competing with sports stars…. we all know who the real rock stars are.

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  35. eric --- says:

    first i must say , i am digging this whole KOL banter going on , but that is not what i want to say.

    what i want to say is “greatest rock ‘n roll band to exist since Nickleback” ???????? what the fuck , i think the fucking question here is ,who the fuck are you ,comparing KOL to NICKELFUCK, really , dude get a fucking life , you are a retard dean.

    ok maybe thats a bit harsh ????….. too bad i don’t give a shit!

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  36. #you'rekillingmyvibe says:

    Up to my eyeballs in everyone’s unfounded opinions. What happened to journalism? This is more like the ratty diary entry of a man far too concerned with the martic girls in the show box and not concerned enough with the ethics of fair journalism.

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  37. Dean says:

    Eric, you seem very awesome and clever so I’ll apologise for comparing KOL to Nickleback. I’m sorry! Please forgive me. I’d also like to apologise to rock ‘n roll for including it in the same sentence as those 2 bands.

    I appreciate your passion. I really do. I’m assuming here that the amount of “fucks” you can squeeze into a post is correlative to how passionate you are trying to be but I’m not that familiar with outcomes-based-education so I might be wrong. If so, please forgive me. Again.

    I wish, however, that you would give a shit. Because the internet is a place where feelings get hurt and we need to consider each others feelings…

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  38. steve says:

    lol, next time stand closer to the stage andy, so you can get a better view through your lensless wayfarers….

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  39. Andy says:

    who told you my wayfarers are lensless? So busted!

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  40. steve says:

    such an awesome review. not! that’s the main problem with writers for mahala at the moment, they always go review events with preconcieved ideas of what an event will be like, and are not shy on masturbatorally letting us know that an event was what they thought it was going to be…

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  41. steve says:

    lol. ok. good come back. good journalism too….

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  42. steve says:

    oh. my. god. are you seriously posting comments on yr own comments page? wow. *journalistic integrity goes out the window.

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  43. Anton says:

    Haha haven’t been on this website for about four months and this sick to the stomach tripe surely isn’t going to lure me back in a hurry.

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  44. Megan says:

    I have been looking for a KOL review that expresses just how goddam disappointing they were, serious waste of money….i may as well have been cramped in a small closet, listening to a live soundtrack and flashing red and green lights in my face, and end it off with a sparkler! oh and throw a bit of R20 black label over myself!

    completely agree with the above review, shot!

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  45. Pablo says:

    I must admit I too found the gig uninspired and lack lustre.

    Andy lamenting this widely shared sentiment should not surprise us in the least.

    I DO want to fight with everyone, but I just don’t have the energy.

    Wait I’ll try:

    Many of you commenters sound like insane ego maniacs the way you’re going at Andy.

    I am bored of bored people crapping on Mahala articles and writers.

    PLEASE, all you very talented commenters, write articles and send them in, your talents are being wasted.

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  46. Andy says:

    Thanks Pablo and great idea…

    talented commenters please send your stuff to pitch@mahala.co.za

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