Looking around at the sold-out crowd tonight at the city’s prestigious Madison Square Garden, you could see these packed seats as a vindication. It’s heartening for longtime followers to witness such conclusive proof that Kings Of Leon have finally, decisively, got the attention of their home nation.
They’ve been selling out venues this size in the UK for a while now, but the sight of 20,000 of their own countrymen filling this legendary arena has been a long time coming, and the importance of the occasion is not lost on the Tennessee foursome. “I’ve been dreaming about this moment my whole life,” frontman Caleb Followill tells the crowd. “I’d like to thank everyone who’s been telling their friends
about us for years and years.”
“I don’t really know the old stuff, I just got into them on this album,” a woman next to us says. It’s something she doubtless has in common with a large percentage of those here tonight, who range from high-school girls to 30-something professionals, whose first exposure to the Kings was likely over the radio on their daily commute in from New Jersey and Long Island. Abroad they may have headlined Glastonbury, sold a few million albums and come to require the services of burly bodyguards, but until the release of ‘Only By The Night’ in their homeland, the Kings had sold maybe 200,000 albums. However, following an appearance on the influential Saturday Night Live and heavy radio play, their fourth album saw the band enjoy their highest-ever debut on the Billboard Top 200, entering at the Number Five spot.
That album’s much-talked-about ‘bigger sound’ was practically tailor-made for this space. Caleb’s voice comes across even stronger and truer here than four months ago at their intimate Webster Hall gig, and while Madison Square Garden marks a massive achievement for the band, there’s no sign of the underlying nerves that were apparent during that last New York show. This is a band who are clearly more comfortable when there’s 10 feet between the stage and the crowd. Trucking in with ‘Only By The Night’’s formidable highlight ‘Crawl’, followed by the quick one-two of ‘Taper Jean Girl’ and ‘My Party’, the band stick to the task in hand: playing the songs. They might be in the stadium rock league now, but the Followills are still no-nonsense Tennessee boys. Save for a few images that flash across screens occasionally, the set is a straightforward rock show: there are no pyrotechnics, no confetti-filled balloons or runways extending into the crowd.
Caleb wears his strong-and-silent-type persona well, his quiet moodiness proving that it is possible to engage an arena of this size without gimmickry. The band totally own their moment, deploying recent giant crowd-pleasers ‘Sex On Fire’ and ‘Charmer’ without mercy, then charming us with the wistfully reminiscent ‘Revelry’, a lowering of the tempo which many of the crowd use as an opportunity to capture their impressive surroundings on camera phones.
The ’80s-power-ballad-ish ‘Use Somebody’ could have been written specially for this moment, its emotionally-charged catchiness perfect for an arena crowd to sing back at the band, while the U2-esque ‘Knocked Up’ shoulders the burden of the new, rock monster-sized expectations that ‘Only By The Night’ has laid on the Kings effortlessly. There’s just a handful of tracks, though, from their first two albums, including ‘Molly’s Chambers’ and ‘The Bucket’, making you wonder if perhaps the Followills are happy enough to leave behind the low-profile scuzz-rock of their earlier days altogether.
They certainly look beamingly happy with this glittering milestone on their upward ascent; not least Caleb Followill, whose parting words as he leaves the stage smiling, with two fists in the air, sum the evening up simply: “We finally did it!”