The Kings of Leon

As a cynical, snobby music fan here’s a question I rarely ask in any sort of positive context. So when did music get to where it is in the UK now? I can’t figure it out. When did cool rock bands start becoming such mass market attractions? And how come a great band like Kings of Leon could sell out London’s Wembley arena, and damn near blow the roof off it?

Some where along the line the three brothers and a cousin from Nashville, that started the bluesy rock band, have quietly and steadily morphed into superstars, with a number one single and album this year. And I think it’s great.

For one thing it reassures me of the great desire by the British public to still want to hear songcraft, and see live performances and sincerity in music again. Despite the continued success of shows like X Factor, there also a real love of ‘bands’, with their own ideas, concepts and stories to tell. That is certainly something the mega-success of acts like Muse, Radiohead or Coldplay have proven recently. It is a strange thought for someone my age, but it occurres to me that the Foo Fighters have probably played significantly bigger headlining shows than Nirvana ever did, for example.

Another thing that comes with this is a younger generation who will see those sorts of bands as being too middle of the road – conformist and safe. Well that’s great too, because that sort of reaction creates edgier, challenging art at an underground level. But the most amazing thing that struck me about the Kings Of Leon show is, they still rock too.

Yeah, the sound has changed a bit, matured, maybe even mellowed, which might offend the purest and hardcore fans of the first records. It might even pout off the more avant-garde rock fans in general (I can actually hear the sound of Danis shaking his head at me!) but there is still an edge present here. And even though personally I think the new tracks are bigger, more anthemic, and tailor made for this environment, it was actually the older songs the crowd really went wild for, in fact they only played three from the latest record.

Just a week earlier at the O2, I’d witnessed Chris Martin urging the crowd to sing along, asking for noise and challenging the them to raise the roof – KOL simply didn’t have to. Singer-guitarist Caleb Followill barely said a word, his fragile lilting voice hit everyone in there square in the chest, and they sang along to every word.

There were some minimal visuals, but absolutely no pomp, no confetti, no stage theatrics, nothing but four guys and their instruments singing songs from their hearts. The crowd’s passion and will for more was infectious. I’ve been to numerous shows this year and the “encore” was as genuine as I’ve seen in a long time.

For some reason the Kings of Leon haven’t quite been taken to the hearts of their native America with the same gusto just yet, but here in the UK, we love it. Each track was greeted with thunderous applause and recognition.

And then at the end of the evening, with barely a word, just a tiny, shy wave, they left. Understated, passionate and genuine. And people buy into it.

Viva rock n’ roll.

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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