Caleb looks us in the eye contemplating how to answer the question we have just posed to him. His beer swishes around the plastic pint glass firmly lodged in the American’s hand. It’s a bitterly cold December evening, the streets of London are covered in frost where oases of freezing cold water reflect Christmas lights from the Brixton residents. We knew the answer before we even posed it, the Followill brother is certain as well, but it still takes a few seconds or so for the rims of the plastic container to be splashed with an alcohol substance until the reply leaves Caleb’s bearded mouth.
Fast forward twelve years. The Kings of Leon have crammed as many fans as possible into Rotterdam’s Oude Luxor Theater – no mean feat when the auditorium is a strictly seated venue. Towards the back a few rows are reserved for guests and journalists such as ourselves – but the real VIPs are the loyal members of the public who are promised ‘an hour and a bit’ of unbeatable live music at this very special MTV gig ahead of the European Music Awards (EMAs) tomorrow night.
We won’t be treated to that ‘bit’ – more of that later – but the next sixty minutes, which are kicked off with ‘The Bucket’ are more than enough to keep the crowd happy…and the suits towards the back of the venue. Back to the fans, one of which is probably cherishing Caleb’s guitar pluck which he flicked away playing ‘Mary’, and they give the lead singer a union vocal cheer when he asks ‘How you guys doing tonight?’
As per at a KOL gig the brothers keep stage interaction to a bare minimum between numbers which is quite unusual given their religious background.
Caleb, Jared and Nathan are the sons of a preacher man, Ivan Leon Followill. When the band started out with their cousin Matthew early interviews would focus on their commitment to the big man upstairs although as the band became more successful their hours of worship were cut short…and so were their tempers!
Fortunately the two years between their last album, Mechanical Ball and WALLS has allowed the bond between the family members to heal and record some bloody good new tracks. Take ‘Supersoaker’ for example which includes such tenderly lines such as: ‘The flags are flying across the plains. I've got a secret picking at my brain’ and their most recent release ‘Waste a Moment’ telling the story of a tuberous relationship between a waitress and her partner…’Tex, he was her boyfriend, with no kin. Always running from the law. Every other weekend, the week ends. With his back in her claw.’
The band have more feeling than ever as they play this intimate gig in front of a few hundred people who sweated it out to buy tickets when the gig was announced a matter of weeks ago.
As the perspiration dampens Caleb’s hankie at the end of ‘Reverend’ Jared dry lip quivers as he asks Rotterdam, ‘Can you feel it?’ before ‘Use Somebody’ erupts into a predictable singalong although after one their most successful hits the arrival of another new track takes the atmosphere down just a notch.
Playing unreleased material is always a challenge to even the most assertive artist, thankfully despite a rocky introduction the venue are already singing back the words of ‘Over’ half-way through, although something tells us the track won’t be winning any awards – speaking of which it’s time for the Tennessee guys to give a nod to the real reason they are here tonight – and it wouldn’t be a Kings of Leon gig without a bit of sombre banter would it?
‘Thanks a lot’ Caleb dreary asserts. ‘We are happy to be here in Rotterdam. We’ve been sitting at home, so we kinda guess this is a good place to be. Tomorrow we are at an awards ceremony…but we’re gonna loose!’
The band, who will be beaten by Twenty One Pilots for Best Alternative act within the next twenty four hours, win the crowd over by belting out another corker in the form of ‘Radioactive’ and confession booths will be filled tomorrow morning as the fans forgive their false start on another new WALLS track, ‘Eyes on You’.
As the set comes to a close every single second of ‘Waste a Moment’ is saved for another word-for-word chant by the fans, by now the VIPs are joining in with their arms reaching towards the rear ceiling and of course the ultimate climax comes with ‘Sex on Fire’.
So, encore time yeah? Well, apparently not. The Kings were expected to play one more track but it never materialised despite a prolonged series of cheers and claps which only applauded the stage crew clearing the performance area – bit of a shame, but you can’t have it all can you?...
It’s 13th December 2004, we have asked Caleb if he thinks playing small venues will become a thing of a past in years to come. He’s just finished the band’s first headline gig in London at Brixton Academy, as he swigs the last few drops of his pint Caleb tells us playing arenas and stadiums would be a dream come true. But then he pauses, there’s a glint in his eye….’But I would miss playing small venues like these!’
Kings of Leon setlist – Oude Luxor Theater, Rotterdam – Saturday 5 November 2016
Eyes on You
Waste a Moment
Sex on Fire
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