Sunday, September 24

The Evolution of Kings of Leon on Display at Shoreline

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Kings of Leon
Shoreline Amphitheater
August 22, 2017

Bands that don’t evolve eventually stagnate and dissolve. Even those that are fortunate enough to attain the pinnacle of musical success, having a single or an album register high on the charts, will experience a precipitous fall in an eye blink if they do not evolve….hence the term one hit wonder.

While evolution by itself does not guarantee that popular acts will maintain their status in the pop music stratosphere, those bands that stay active and evolve will usually build enough of a brand to keep themselves relevant for a career.

Kings of Leon (KOL) rose to the top of the musical universe in 2007 by way of their success in the UK, and have managed to stay there and thrive ever since by evolving. However their evolutionary arc has also brought them the problem experienced by many perennially popular bands – eventually they alienate the fan base that brought their initial notoriety.

When they first burst on the scene out of Nashville in the early 2000s, KOL, a family band featuring the brothers Followill (Caleb – vocals/guitar, Jared – bass, and Nathan – drums, background vox) along with their cousin Matthew Followill (lead guitar) were known for their incendiary live performances and their gritty Southern rock-tinged garage sound.

From the onset record companies and music media lauded KOL, being so young and showing so much promise that when they released their 2003 EP Holy Roller Novocaine, they were tabbed by pundits to lead the new breed of rock along with the likes of the Strokes and the White Stripes.

While their rise was quick and steady from those humble beginnings to the current day, KOL have re-invented themselves in a way that has veered significantly from those edgy, rootsy beginnings to become a shiny and packaged alternative rock product.

Bringing this legacy of success to the Shoreline, KOL showed that their brand is thriving, though it is doing so by means of embracing the trappings of their commercial achievements. Gone are the greasy longhairs wearing thrift store denim and bell-bottoms. Now in the lineup are hipster cuts and facial hair (they could be poster boys for Supercuts), and fashionable skinny jeans.

Leading off with ‘Conversation Piece’ (WALLS – 2016) the juxtaposition of their current and past sound was undeniable. However on this night, the crowd that battled through South Bay rush hour traffic did not care where KOL came from, only that they were there at the Shoreline.

For those who were not thinking of the transition of KOL through the years, the band reminded them, as Caleb harkened back to the beginnings of the band stating “I remember the first time we played here…it was for Lollapalooza. We played in a tent in the parking lot and there were like 4 girls there. When we started our first song they started laughing and left….I always thought we should come back, now look where we are.”

This illustration of their metamorphosis from petulant rock upstarts to arena rock stalwarts was underscored by the songs they played. Consider the soft and clean guitar intro of ‘Conversation Piece’ and the first lyrics “Take me back to California…” delivered in Caleb’s now laid back voice with a more evident country twang. Then line it up against the fifth song of the set ‘California Waiting’ (Holy Roller), with its straight forward indie guitar punch and Caleb’s more urgent and scratchy vocals, and you will get the map of the KOL career landscape.

Though the crowd ate up every second of the set rolled out by their heroes, KOL started off slowly, almost pensive before hitting their stride with ‘California Waiting.’ They really heated things up with a rollicking performance of ‘Use Somebody’ (Only by the Night – 2008) before again dialing it back for a series of acoustic numbers that, while well played, was a cue to many (particularly the males) to head for beer or the bathroom.

Just when it seemed that KOL was content to stay in the slow lane and enjoy the scenery, the ride picked up speed with ‘Find Me’ and ‘Reverend’ (WALLS), highlighted by Jared’s thumping bass and the guitar interchange of intricate arpeggios and crunch bar chords.

When KOL really lays into it as they did on the fine performance of ‘Knocked Up’ (Because of the Times – 2007) and followed by the transcendent ‘Sex on Fire’ (during which Caleb showed he can still summon an achingly earnest wailing vocal style), they are reminiscent musically of the Police leaning on lots of up beats from the bass and odd time metered drumming. Nathan in particular (looking like a hipster version of Ron Jeremy…facial look anyway) was masterful on the drums while simultaneously delivering the background vocal harmonies that are now a KOL staple.

Bottom line is KOL still can bring it. Though viewing through the looking glass of their evolution it is evident that they have turned away from their grimy Tennessee rocker roots and adopted the sheen of music industry darlings, they do still deliver the goods. Like it or not the KOL recipe of re-invent, evolve, and thrive is indeed keeping this family on top.

Kicking things off while the sun was still high in the sky was the down home roadside retro rock of Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. The early arriving crowd that was fortunate enough to catch them got a good dose of ass-kicking stomp and romp complete with horns and the croon of Mr. Rateliff who sounds like he was time warped from the late 50’s.

The music of the Night Sweats was as refreshing as the breeze that swept through Shoreline and helped cool the warm day into a comfortable evening. In particular, the dustup rocker ‘S.O.B’ which closed the set and has been in fairly heavy rotation on Live 105 and KFOG brought down the house while the sun was setting.

Kings of Leon:

Setlist: Conversation Piece | Taper Jean Girl | The Bucket | Mary | California Waiting | Notion | Fans | Use Somebody | Acoustic Set Milk | Talihina Sky | WALLS | Find Me | Crawl | Radioactive | The Immortals | On Call | Around the World | Family Tree | Reverend | Back Down South | Pyro | Knocked Up | Supersoaker | Sex on Fire | Waste a Moment

Find out more about Kings of Leon on their website.

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats:

Learn all about Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats here.

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About Author

Mark Paniagua is a bay area native who grew up on the SF music scene as a musician and sound engineer. Playing local clubs since the late 80's in bands such as Ringchildren, Sorrow Town Choir, and Fuzzbucket, Mark is an accomplished bassist and vocalist. He has also played and performed in a number of rock musical productions with Buzz Skycastle crew, including Jesus Christ Superstar, Pink Floyd's The Wall, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Abigail the Rock Opera.

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