New look Kings and a refreshed sound. Ladies: form another orderly queue

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Kings of Leon : Manchester Apollo, Wednesday June 15

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Kings of Leon : Manchester Apollo, Wednesday June 15

Lordy! Have you seen the brothers Followill recently? Singer Caleb, now beardless and ponytailed, sports a Mr Motivator-approved black gym vest. Cousin Matthew, meanwhile, now favours a hairband. A fucking hairband! Bubblegum-blowing drummer Nathan aside, the hillbilly-chic of yore, it seems, has been jettisoned in favour of an ’80s rock/aerobics crossover.

With this in mind, it’s worth mentioning that tonight is also the night that the resuscitation of the most excessive ’80s fashion car-crash Mötley Crüe continues across town.

We’re talking glitter cannons set to ‘premature ejaculate’ mode, dogs flying around in helicopters and gaggles of strippers being ordered to lick the nipples of four coke-ravaged incontinents.

In stark contrast, KOL don’t even bother with a backdrop and play on a stage more bare than the Spice Girls’ tour diary, with each Followill no more than six feet from another. Which is strange, considering that from day one these Tennessee country punks’ whole back-story and image was built around, well, gimmicks. It’s not the only thing that’s changed. Twelve months ago KOL were playing the biggest show of their lives just before Oasis at Glasto on Friday night. This year – despite having carefully kept a Pilton-shaped hole free throughout their European tour itinerary – they’re not even on the bill. True, life might have been a little less high profile in the Kings’ camp recently, but that’s not because they’ve run out of ideas. It’s because the days when gimmicks were needed are long gone.

There’s a more focused intensity about the Followills these days. Oldies ‘Molly’s Chambers’ and ‘Wasted Time’ – occasionally muddy and flat live – have been fed on a strict steroid diet and sound utterly enormous. However, it’s the newer material, taken from ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’ (the best follow-up LP since The Smiths’ ‘Meat Is Murder’) that’s most impressive. ‘Slow Night, So Long’ is a sleazy blast of pure ‘Exile…’ -era Stones guitar belligerence, while ‘Four Kicks’ sees pints launched skywards and the Apollo struggle to contain the explosions of delirium from the assembled throng.

Like all the best shags you’ve ever had, it’s over in a blur. Encoring with a raucous ‘Holy Roller Novocaine’, Caleb assaults his mic stand and the band stride off into the night to compete with those hair-metal goons for Manchester’s sexiest ladyfolk. Once sludgy-sounding Almost Famous-extras, Kings Of Leon have emerged from the other side of their ‘Youth & Young Manhood’ as the most beguilingly brilliant rock’n’roll band on the planet.

Rick Martin