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Kings of Leon

Kicking The Bucket

by Dave Durbach / 01.11.2011

“Tell me, when the first show is over, will you still love me when I’m an incredibly humungoid giant star?”
“Yeah.”
“Will you still love me when I’m in my hanging-out-with-Ravi-Shankar phase?”
“Yeah.”
“Will you still love me when I’m in my carbohydrate, sequined-jumpsuit, young-girls-in-white-cotton-panties, waking-up-in-a-pool-of-my-own-vomit, bloated-purple-dead-on-a-toilet phase?”
“Yeah.”

Unfortunately real life seldom pans out as smoothly as in Wayne’s World. History has shown age to be far kinder to some than others. Axl Rose went from stick-thin rock god to washed out, corn-rowed deadbeat. Vanilla Ice fell from hip-hop royalty and Madonna’s boy-toy to being sponsored by Castle Light and performing in the East Rand. Britney turned from schoolgirl seductress to attention-grabbing party animal to chubby soccer mom. The inevitable decline is more rewarding than reality TV for making one feel good about oneself.

Kings Of Leon - Golden Circle Fans

As far as many are concerned, the Kings Of Leon put out two great albums. Then they trimmed their hair, shaved their moustaches, started buying threads from a Tommy Hilfiger catalogue and got married to underwear models. They also found their formula to churn out hits sounding increasingly similar. The metamorphosis began with the tolerable Because Of The Times. After that came two bigger albums, a fistful of Grammys and the authorised documentary film. This next level success came largely on the back of a giant hit that will forever be begged for as a live encore – “Sex On Fire”, a song frontman Caleb Followill admitted to being “a piece of shit”, but nevertheless knows he must play to keep the fans happy.

“Sex On Fire” did for the Kings of Leon what “Californication” did for the Red Hot Chili Peppers – a legitimate reason for original fans to disown the band, and day zero for new fans who don’t want to know that the rock stars they worship have been putting out superior songs for years. For both bands, it opened the door to a new generation of screaming teenage girls. In their rise to superstardom, the Kings Of Leon have quickly shed their youthful charm. No longer fresh-faced teenagers, life on the road has taken its toll. Caleb in particular looks about 20 years older than he did when the band first emerged – bloated, bearded and balding.

Kings Of Leon - Teen Fans

With last year’s album Come Around Sundown, the band exploded almost to Coldplay and U2 proportions – both of whom also managed to bring their roadshows to Africa in recent months. And while teen fans might sneer at the comparison, all three bands offer the same peg on which their respective audiences, each a five-or-so year age gap apart, can hang the memories of their misspent youth.

The wheel keeps turning. On the first of August, over a year into their world tour for the not-so-new album, the band found themselves forced to cut short the home leg of the trip after Caleb wandered off stage in the middle a performance, saying he needed a beer, without returning. A short stint in rehab followed – amidst reasons like “extreme anxiety in front of large crowds,” “vocal issues” and “exhaustion”. But when it comes to million-dollar tours, the show must go on. A few weeks later and they’re back on the road, contractually bound to meet their tour dates, especially after already having cancelled their initial SA date in March.

And so it was that the Kings rolled into South Africa, en route from nine shows in Canada to eight shows (starting this week) in Australia – a suitable place for the ass-end of a world tour that started in Atlantic City on 5 June 2010. The band’s image has always been tied to life on the road – first growing up with their traveling evangelist pa, then bussing around middle America after first finding fame in the UK, and now – finally, perhaps – on this gigantic scale. For a band that started out as redneck indie darlings, it’s quite something to see 45 000 fans – predominantly but not exclusively white teenagers – flock to Soccer City.

Kings Of Leon - Shadowclub

Thankfully, the promoters used the opportunity to throw some local acts a bone. The Black Hotels took to the stage first and somehow managed to elicit a positive reaction out of the growing crowd, despite lacking the requisite spirit, looks or, in my humble opinion, skills. MK idols Die Heuwels Fantasties were also completely out of their depth, lacking even the Hotels’ song-writing abilities. The surprise package of the night was the band sandwiched between those two opening acts – Shadowclub, a watertight three-piece whose supercharged blues-punk hybrid blew the other two acts off the stage, and even gave the Kings a run for their money.

As this publication’s reprobate editor expressed after the Cape Town show, it’s easy to dismiss the spectacle in consumerist terms and hum-haw about how the youth of today are all generic MTV clones – not only in SA but anywhere in the world. But to witness so many of them get the chance to see their bestest band in their own backyard was at least a sign that SA is at long last starting to attract the acts that people want to see. It’s easy to hate on the rock-n-roll cliché that the Kings Of Leon have become, but they were here, and they still rocked all their old hits we loved “before they were big”. While many may lament them having “sold out”, the truth is that if they hadn’t swollen into elephantine, Grammy-winning arena rockers, they would never have made it here in the first place, so for that we can only be grateful.

Kings Of Leon - The Kings

Few rock bands have managed to turn the tables and follow commercial success with better albums that are more true to their roots – like Nirvana following Nevermind with In Utero or the Pixies signing off with the masterful Trompe Le Monde. One can’t put the brothers Followill in the same league, but at least they haven’t fizzled out into obscurity due to egos or disinterest, as most others do after a few albums. It’s particularly hard for a band who first makes its mark due to good looks and fashion sense – as they grow older, they learn that only memorable songs matter.

For those who didn’t want to see the Kings grow to this size, what alternative would they have wished for? For the band to still be running around in tight jeans and combovers, expecting time to stand still while they wallow in the global McHipster milieu, rather than striving to appeal to a wider audience? While bands like the Strokes – who the Kings were first compared to – may have retained their cooler-than-thou appeal, they’re still mincing around the same small pond. Most others have long since given up. The Kings Of Leon, meanwhile, bloated, jaded, formulaic and filthy rich as they may be, keep on trucking – and can still look forward to their sequined-jumpsuit, young-girls-in-white-cotton-panties, waking-up-in-a-pool-of-their-own-vomit, bloated-purple-dead-on-a-toilet glory days.

Kings Of Leon - A Followill on guitar

Kings Of Leon - Bass Blues

Kings Of Leon - Caleb Followill

Kings Of Leon - Stage shot

Kings Of Leon - Bass

Kings Of Leon - Shadowclub Glory

Kings Of Leon - Die Heuwels

*All images © Dave Durbach.

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RESPONSES (24)
  1. Michael says:

    The trusty ‘sold out’ logic: great. “I loved their first two albums”, the journo asserts. “But now they’re not as good as when we, the chosen few, discovered them…”

    Why are we all still so embarrassed by scale? As cultural writers we seem unwilling to accept the stadium concert as a medium, almost a discipline, in its own right, and assess examples of it on fair terms? Sure, I’d have preferred the Strokes at CBGB circa 2000, but for a stadium show, KOL at Soccer City were excellent. Sound, lighting and visuals, the depth and scope of their songs and stories, the sonic textures, and their relative restraint (no bobbing about going “Hello Cleveland!” “Everybody say ‘Hey! Ho!'”) made for a powerful, intelligent show. ‘Sex on Fire’ not withstanding.

    Shame, ja, agreed on Die Heuwels: I was hoping against hope that they would bring out Jack Parow for their last song and rock ‘Die Vraagstuk’, but, alas, we got ‘Pille vir Kersfees’ instead… all a bit drama school, if you ask me.

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  2. Roger Young says:

    Sighs

    Begins typing a long explanation of how writing and embedded ideas work. Realises someone like @Michael enjoys mediocre spectacles and therefore probably doesn’t “get” subtext, etc. Gives up.

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  3. Not So Fake Max says:

    Shadowclub are just a watered-down Great Apes

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  4. Mugabe says:

    More musician bashing. More KOL bashing. More unoriginal shit. I’ve read this article a million times in a million different formats. Its getting so goddam old. Must suck being so tired and jaded all the time.

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  5. eric --- says:

    cool , article , Michael , so an answer to your stadium question, does as follows, because when you have stadium concerts, you end up filling the stadium with 70% fuck tards who only know one song they heard on the radio and don’t like people who dance and sing along and smoke, which is what people do at a fucking rock concert, the show was awesome on Saturday don’t get me wrong in fact i don’t want them to talk while they perform, i don’t give a shit, just keep the songs coming and i will be happy , if that gig had only 200 fans , it would have been way more awesome, because all those guys would be there because they want to and know the songs and have loved the songs and not just one fucking “piece of shit ” song. anyhoo, whatevs , each to his own

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  6. Anonymous says:

    Eric you knob. I have been listening to KOL since the year zero (Yes. I am a crusty old sea dog) and I did not enjoy the chops smoking (in a non-smoking area…and I am a smoker myself) and moshing (WTF) to KOL.
    I bust the bank for a golden circle ticket even though I accepted that the radio friendly unit consumers would be dominant and that the band would be catering to them. The two bitching and moaning reveiws about CPT and JHB gigs could have been written before the band even arrived in the country.

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  7. Anonymous says:

    We’ve all heard about and read similar “tanted” reviews and they just a bunch of “clever” words put in a certain order to sound educated and “read worthy”, but at the end of the day its all trivial really…

    Kings Of Leon, What an awesome Rock ‘n Roll Band, What a great story they have to tell and what great songs these guys can write and make it look so easy. And they just dont give a damn either. I’m extremely happy to have seen them. Would’ve have loved there to be a better band to open up instead of the boring nonsense we were fed by Big Concerts.
    Sure Sex On Fire might not be their most interesting song to date but even icons such as Bob Dylan had to include some of his hits in his 1980s tours and give the fans what they want.
    After all, they are coming to see what they like and perhaps what they first attracted them.
    And at the end of the night, they’re the ones paying for the tickets, which in turn pays for the whole show, including the artist’s fee…”Money doesn’t talk, it swears…”

    As for the opening bands, Shadow Club, in my opinion, the most boring band I’ve heard live in a long time that’s “making it big”. Every song is just another lame wannabe rock ‘n roll formula with useless guitar playing and one dimensional songwriting with alot more oohs and aahs than lyrics. Please someone tell me how they got that gig, instead of other great acts we have.
    The Black Hotels, Are you kidding with me? What a load of nonsense, I did not enjoy 1 sec on the whole set they played. The most depressing, mechanical, cold, tired looking artists playing songs that suit their looking perfectly. Perhaps Shadow Club got this gig, but please tell me how the F did The Black Hotels get there 30mins of fame? I would be embarrassed just knowing the band.
    Okay next Die Heuwels. At least these guys brought a bit more of a melodic sound to the opening acts but still they didn’t seem to take my breathe away.
    One thing that did take my breathe away was hearing them play an acoustic track “Leja” but with no acoustic guitar on stage, Pierre’s right hand just touching the top string of his Telecaster as nice, full strummed chords of an acoustic track blared through the huge soung rig. Acoustic guitars on a backing track? Come on!! Get with the program guys, I’m definitely sure that they had alot more than that on a back track too, hence them sounding, from a technical point of view, much better than Kings, But who gives a damn, I’m there to see the band, in there natural, real , honest state battling their instruments, digging deep into the drum kit, singing the fuck outta the microphone and everything else that comes with it, good sound or bad sound. I want what’s real, cause after all that’s all that matters right?

    Kings are a bunch of kids from the middle of nowhere, had a dream to be band, grabbed a bunch of instruments, some whom couldn’t play a note at all and went from nothing to one of the biggest rock bands we’ll ever see. Their albums have evolved, sure but much rather that than them bringing out 5 albums all sounding like Youth And Young Manhood. As great as an album that is, it could never be the only sound they’d wanna do and it would definitely not be the only sound I’d want to listen to. They set in Cape Town was amazing, I didn’t hear some of my favourites like California Waiting, Cold Desert and King Of The Rodeo, But they only had 2 hours with 5 albums of material to choose from.
    They don’t do much on stage except play, imagine Caleb running around rolling on the floor…That would be silly. Let them do what they do and how they want to.
    And who cares if they clean up after 2 records and shaved their mustaches?
    After a while it does start to itch you know…

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  8. Anonymous says:

    I’m not sure about shaving the ‘taches…who condones such ungodly things?

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  9. eric --- says:

    hey anonymous , first, who said anything about moshing, i said dancing? oh , cool name you gave me,knob! pretty rad name.. thank you, and don’t be too harsh on your self, crusty old sea dog? that is unnecessary, you could have just said “crusty old fag”!

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  10. Roger Young says:

    Dear Anon

    Does your clever use of quotation marks imply that your whole comment was intended ironically?

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  11. killer says:

    Nothing quite like the irony of more shitty mahala “journos” continually insulting bands on selling out,when they themselves have a web page covered in advertising banners and the like… Hmmm, what colour is the kettle???

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  12. Anon says:

    @ Roger “YES”

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  13. Roger Young says:

    If KOL fans really truly enjoyed the show, without any lingering sense of doubt, they wouldn’t keep jumping onto forums and defending them.

    Anyway, @Killer

    I don’t think KOL have been accused of selling out in any of these articles, but I could be wrong. But that has no bearing in the fallacy of your accusation, selling out and selling advertising are too different things entirely.

    All I have to say about the matter is this, it can’t be any fun being KOL, imagine having to play those shitty songs night after night for nearly 18 months. God, I hope the beautiful women and the money with all the things it buys makes it all worthwhile. I don’t blame them for not knowing or caring what city they’re in, they got bigger things to thing about.

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  14. KOL fan (before they sucked) says:

    Can someone enlighten me why a song like ‘Sex is on Fire’ made such an impact on the masses . It has to be the worst breakthrough song of all time. Kryptonite, even Nickleback’s first cock rock onslaught about drinking to the bottom of every bottle, annoying as hell, but I get why so many douches flexing their biceps raising their Castles to the air, do enjoy that kind of stuff. ‘Whoooaaah!! this sex is on fire!…..’ oh wait, I get it now, nevermind

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  15. bob says:

    well said

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  16. Charlie says:

    This forum is lame, you all suck donkey horse vagina, I’m outta here…

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  17. Killer says:

    Well roger, the general idea coming across from every banal article on this site is that any band to make it on the big stage of “commercialism” has in someway sold out, be it through their musical progression (which I’m sure you writers know fuck all about) or just the fact that they have a bigger audience than you. Seling out is (very simply) changing for monetary benefit.. Im sure you journos are all frantically entering that sunglasses comp to win the cd supporting bands you all openly hate…

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  18. Roger Young says:

    I’m glad you’re sure of something. Hold onto that.

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  19. YsterHart says:

    Hey Killer, Mahala’s free, right?

    So while you bitch about the advertising, consider how these folks are going to pay their writers without it? And, if you think the articles are banal now, imagine how bad they might be if Mahala had to rely solely on writers willing, or with nothing better to do, to do it for free.

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  20. killer says:

    so they’re only writing for the sake of getting paid..?? How ironic…

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  21. Roger Young says:

    I guess what it comes down to is that KOL mustn’t write any songs about being sad. Because being sad is a thing they don’t like. And it’s wrong to get paid for expressing yourself about things you don’t like.

    They must sing happy songs all the time. It doesn’t matter if they look bored doing it because the audience doesn’t mind paying all that money to some rich bored dude who is pretending to enjoy himself just to earn some money so that he can go sleep on satin sheets and have eunuchs bathe him in milk. In fact the audience kinda admires him for this, for totally not giving a fuck about them.

    And look, i don’t really care either way about their music but it takes a special kind of fool to think that the KOL concert was a good time.

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  22. Jack says:

    Roger, you’re an idiot.

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  23. Bermese says:

    Jack, go fuck yourself.

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  24. Weanploy says:

    Kati akoma..Mipws ksereis ena sygomtira apo Thessaloniki ”Μαριονετες” legontai vgalan ena maxi single to 1999(an den kanw lathos) me 5 tragoudia..Den tous vriskw pouthena..

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