First things first: there’s clearly a lot more to Kings of Leon’s cancelled US tour than a simple case of heat exhaustion.
That’s the official line – at least for the time being – but while we don’t doubt there’s some truth to it, the band members’ Twitter activity over the past few days has hinted at something far more troubling going on behind the scenes. Following Caleb’s walk-off at the Gexa Energy Pavillion in Dallas on Friday night, Nathan described himself as “ashamed and embarassed,” while Jared admitted that, “there are problems in our band bigger than not drinking enough Gatorade.”
And if all this ‘fiasco’ (Nathan’s word, not ours) really boiled down to was a dehydrated frontman, you can bet the email we sent the band’s management asking them to shed some light on the situation wouldn’t have been met with a terse reply of “No further comment.”
When a band circles their wagons like that, speculation inevitably turns to their long-term future. I’ve interviewed Kings of Leon on numerous occasions over the years, the last time being in August 2010. Our conversation that day was dominated by another aborted gig, this one in St. Louis, when incontinent pigeons infamously put paid to the band’s set after three songs. Then, it was Jared who copped the flak. Now, it’s Caleb’s turn.
Just before the Dallas show ground to a halt, the frontman told the crowd that he wasn’t drunk, but that his voice was struggling to cope with the heat. That may well be the case, though Jared’s subsequent tweets would seem to suggest otherwise.
KoL claim to have been drug-free for a number of years, but they’re still fond of a tipple, and Caleb – unerringly polite and softly-spoken in interviews – has a reputation as a mean drunk. His bandmates even have a nickname for his boozy alter-ego: Rooster. When we last spoke, Jared told us that Caleb “definitely still gets as drunk as Rooster used to, but he’s not so mean and mad now.” Caleb himself, meanwhile, admitted that “it all depends on the colour of what I’m drinking. If I’m drinking something dark, then Rooster is likely to come out. If I’m drinking something clear, then I’ll be dancing and having a good time.”
Still, while beer and tequila are about as much use to a dehydrated man as water is to a drowning one, it seems unlikely that one isolated incident would be basis enough to cancel an entire US tour on. The financial implications of that decision will be severe, and for all the flak they took after that cancelled St. Louis gig, KoL are a band who pride themselves on their work rate: “I don’t even like being famous,” Caleb told us last year, “I don’t want that. I just want other bands to respect us, and if they don’t respect our music, they have to respect our work ethic. We work harder than anybody. We’re non-stop.”
Could that be part of the problem? The Followills have released five albums in eight years, and when they’re not writing or recording, they’re almost always touring. It’s an unforgiving schedule, and one that may have taken its toll on the recently-married Caleb.
Another possibility is that there’s an even deeper malaise within the band. While shifting two million copies hardly qualifies it as a disappointment, ‘Come Around Sundown’ has only sold about a third of ‘Only By The Night’’s numbers, and for the first time in their career, critical consensus is against the Followills.
Caleb, who described the making of ‘Come Around Sundown’ as “kind of a depressing experience,” is thought to want to take the band in a more countrified direction, and as recently as June had been hinting at the possibility of the band embarking on solo careers.
It’s important to remember that Kings of Leon have always been a fractious band, and they’ve always managed to weather it. Caleb and Nathan, especially, are notorious for bickering and brawling – after one argument during the making of ‘Only By The Night’, Nathan even crept into Caleb’s room while he slept and started stabbing the mattress – but they’re also incredibly protective of each other.
For that reason, our gut instinct tells us that this crisis, rather than posing an existential threat, may end up being a positive thing. Whatever went on in Dallas last week, it’s clear that Kings of Leon are in desperate need of a break, and a re-evaluation of where they’re headed as a band. The circumstances certainly aren’t ideal, but the time for that is now.
What do you think will happen to the band? William Hill has odds of 1/33 that they’ll play another gig this year (and 10/1 that they won’t).