If the George W. Bush presidency taught us anything, its that uppity rednecks are bad for America. Not that I want to compare last night's Kings of Leon concert at Mesa Amphitheatre to the national nightmare that was Dubya's reign -- exactly. But the cockiness of these two Southern-bred powers (one of the free world, the other of that odd spot where "indie" rock and Skynyrd band collide) and their subsequent failings (one involving the entire planet, the other involving a Phoenix-area rock concert) do share some similarities.
In both cases, the root of the problem is the principal parties' significant overestimation of their own cool/clever-ness. Bush had his "Mission Accomplished" moment aboard an aircraft carrier, the Kings had the moment where singer Caleb Followill came back from the encore only to find the vocal mix not to his liking, at which time he took off his guitar and walked off stage. Guitarist Matthew Followill mumbled a few check-check's in to singer's mic, proving it worked, and Caleb returned after a minute or so, but the episode crystallized what I'd been thinking all night: these boys are getting - to use what I imagine might be the vernacular of their native Nashville - way too big for their britches.
Sure, Caleb made the usual statements of faux humbleness throughout, praising the band's loyal fans and the crowd in general, but his real feelings seem to be better summed up by the Kings' song "Fans," which the marble-mouthed singer belted out with the standard Guitar God poses about a third of the way through the band's hour-and-a-half set:
"All of London sing, cuz England swings, they love the tales I bring. You know the rainy days they ain't so bad when you're the king, the king they want to see."
Riiiight. I mean, cockiness is part of southern rock, sure, but the Kings of Leon are taking it too far by taking stage to classical music (a gimmick best reserved for Metallica and/or Mars Volta) and berating the sound guys and security several times throughout the set.
"I'm not gonna lie, it sounds like shit up here, but you guys are helping us," Caleb said a few songs in (full set list below). Later, he mentioned seeing security hassle the crowd (something I didn't witness in the slightest) and said "fuck 'em," telling the crowd to do what they wanted.
Truthfully, the sound was pretty bad, but I'm not convinced that's not more the fault of Caleb, who couldn't translate the gritty vocals that made the band's 2003 debut, Youth and Young Manhood, an indie touchstone, live in any intelligible way, and the band, who sounded sloppy up until their closing gesture: setting up their guitars to make earsplitting feedback as they walked off the stage. That's not the kind of stunt a band slated to play the MTV Movie Awards ought to be pulling at a sold-out show.
There were a few nice moments, like "Arizona," a slow-burning song about our state which the band hasn't played in awhile, and which had a mellow pace none of their new, radio-oriented songs can match, and their breakthrough single "Molly's Chamber," which still sounds fresh six years after it's release. Overall, though, the night was a mess.
The sad part of this whole sordid affair, for me, is that it seems to represent the corrupting force even small-scale fame can have on a band. Once upon a time, Kings of Leon were a fresh-faced and down-to-earth Southern counterpoint to the scenester indie rock of New York's Strokes and Detroit's White Stripes. Now, they're self-important hacks.
Certainly there's some way to blame this on Bush.
2. "My Party"
3. "Be Somebody"
4. "Taper Jean Girl"
5. "Molly's Chambers"
8. "4 Kicks"
10. "Sex on Fire"
11. "The Bucket"
14. "On Call"
15. "Cold Desert"
16. "Use Somebody"
17. "Slow night, so long"
18. "Closer - Part 1" (pre-tantrum)
19. "Closer - Part 2" (post- tantrum)
19. "Knocked Up"
21. "Black Thumbnail"
Last Night: Kings of Leon and The Walkmen at Mesa Ampitheatre on May 19, 2009.
Better Than: Almost certainly not better than Flight of the Conchords at Dodge Theatre, though I'm still waiting to read Michael Lopez's review.
Personal Bias: I really liked this band when they came out, but they've been rolling steadily downhill since.
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Random Detail: Our contributor Steve Chilton on the surprisingly mainstream nature of the crowd: "I was standing outside [handing out fliers] and the most obscure shirt I saw come through was Snow Patrol."
By The Way: If you ask me, these guys seemed a lot cooler back when they had more hair. Their Fall Out Boy haircuts just don't do it for me.
One More Thing: It's a damned shame I missed The Walkmen, who were off stage by 7:15 (doors were at 6:30). They're a phenomenal band, and seeing them would've made the night much more pleasant.