Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Third time's the charm for Kings of Leon

In 2011, Kings of Leon cancelled the remainder of its tour right before the Tennessee band was scheduled to play Charlotte. But Charlotte obviously doesn't hold a grudge. Enthusiastic fans that sang along in all the right places packed PNC Music Pavilion Tuesday for the band's first Charlotte show since 2010.

Maybe the struggles that led to that tour cancellation three years ago have made Kings of Leon a better band because Tuesday's concert eclipsed its previous Charlotte shows. Back then its sets were either outshined by opening acts (the Black Keys and the Whigs in 2010) or lacked fire (2009's Bojangles' Coliseum show). But the reinvigorated band was on Tuesday aided by a spectacular light show and visuals.

Opening acts Young the Giant and South Africa's the Kongos made good showings. The former's Sameer Gadhia is a formidable frontman with animated moves (headbanging to shoegazer guitars for instance) that match his soaring vocals. The California band is one of few acts that seem comfortable performing for a massive amphitheater audience while still relegated to the narrow front of the stage.

Rained drenched the crowd on the lawn between bands, but that didn't seem to deter anxious fans. Kings of Leon delivered on its promise of a visual spectacle matched by a more intense live show. The opening visuals of "Supersoaker" with the lights from the giant LED backdrop bleeding through images of splashing water and paint were nothing short of stunning (see below). A series of flower petal shaped lights lowered and shot beams down at the band for "Taper Jean Girl." It was the kind of extravagance they probably could only imagine when the track (from its second album) was written.

The first half of the set was marked by Nathan and Caleb Followill's brotherly harmonies and trippy visuals ("The Immortals"). The Kings presented themselves very much as a band with Matthew taking the focus for bluesy guitar solos or playing with his teeth ("Closer"), Still recovering from last month's bus crash Nathan, who always appears the most laid back, blew bubbles, smiled and winked at the camera. Younger brother Jared Followill's crisp bass was an ever present factor continually cutting through the mix. The group is criticized for taking itself too seriously, but smiles crept across all four members' faces at some point in the night.

As promised it unearthed an older, rarely played track (which its doing in every city). Ours was the punky, driving "Happy Alone" from its debut album "Youth and Young Manhood." It kicked off the escalating latter half of the show where KOL gained momentum with each song from later era "Temple" and "Radioactive" to the older track "Molly's Chambers" and back again to the brooding "Beautiful War." During "Don't Matter" one concert goer was knocked out cold by another two rows ahead of us and reportedly hit his head on a chair as he plummeted into an unsuspecting row of fans. After a few minutes of uncertainty and mild chaos, he was revived by security and carted away giving the two teenage girls in front of us an added concert memory. The band didn't notice as it introduced the next song, "Cold Desert."

Like most acts touring amphitheaters this summer, KOL didn't utilize a tiered stage. Instead it opted for a full size screen projecting artful imagery from psychedelic swirls to fast cars, sparks and smoke (for "Pyro") and retro footage.

Despite over 20 songs, the show whizzed by quickly - another indication of renewed energy. A mix of teenage girls, frat boys and even a couple Carolina Panthers joined in for the chillingly unified group-sing of "Use Somebody," which closed the regular set.

It returned for a handful of encores, but stuck to its own material instead of doling out a surprise cover (like at Lollapalooza). It may be a far cry - and practically a different band - than the chaotic Southern blues punks that played a furious, noisy set at Neighborhood Theatre years ago, but it finally feels like Kings of Leon has grown into its arena rock shoes.