An appreciative crowd in Vancouver worshipped at the altar of second chances Wednesday night, as Kings of Leon returned to the stage for the first time following a two-month hiatus forced by classic rock and roll issues. Rogers Arena was awash in redemption, the singalong crowd offering deliverance in the form of enthusiasm bordering on fervour. While it might be a stretch to call it a religious experience, it wasn’t far off.
KOL launched into their return with a spirited rendition of Radioactive, lead singer Caleb Followill – clean-shaven and shiny after his bout with “voice issues and exhaustion” – looking a bit stiff at the microphone, but sounding good. Three songs in, he was absolutely in the groove, noticeably relaxed and sounding great.
If he was tentative to begin with, it’s understandable. The band’s last onstage experience was a disastrous show in Dallas in July, where Followill, complaining about the heat, left the stage mid-concert, saying he was going backstage to vomit, drink a beer and then return to some more songs, according to reports. He never did come back. The rest of their U.S. tour was cancelled.
But he was back on Wednesday in every sense, commanding a 90-minute show that included Molly’s Chambers, Use Somebody and Back Down South; every bit the rock star – tossing guitar picks and water bottles into the audience and looking pretty pleased with himself.
“We don’t get to play here that often,” Followill, a cross around his neck, told the crowd. “But when we do, we have a hell of a time.”
The band – brothers Caleb, Jared and Nathan Followill and their cousin Matthew Followill – hails from the American South; the brothers’ father is a Pentecostal preacher named Leon.
Jared, the band’s dashing bassist and a fan favourite has had his own troubles of late, tweeting about crashing his SUV through his neighbour’s garage door earlier this month.
So for the audience – at least the more anxious among us – Wednesday night was an exercise in apprehension. With each possible sign of trouble – Caleb fiddling with his earpiece, a member of the crew swooping in to fix the mike stand, an onstage confab with other band members – came a fear that things might be going off the rails.
By the end of the first set, the Followills looked like they knew they had knocked it out of the park, Caleb pumping his plaid-shirted arm, à la Bruce Springsteen, giving the crowd a thumbs-up and getting a big congratulatory slap on the back from a roadie as he exited the stage. He smiled. He swaggered.
“God bless you,” he said moments earlier, before launching into Sex On Fire. “We’re Kings of Leon.”
Returning for the three-song encore, he seemed to stray from the standard onstage banter script. “I just want to say you guys are one of the best crowds we’ve had in a long, long time.”
The show opened with the pride of Saskatoon, the Sheepdogs, who beat out a bunch of American bands in a contest this year to become the first unsigned group to appear on the coveted cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
Smart phones in the stadium aside, with the Sheepdogs onstage, it could have been the 1970s: their grooming, fashion – even their decorative banner – as psychedelic-inspired as their music.
They played a solid set to a thin crowd (I’d venture to say there were more people in Times Square to witness the reveal of that magazine cover back in August than there were at Rogers Arena as the Sheepdogs began their set), later earning kudos from Caleb Followill, who called them “a great band.”
There was no mention of the Rolling Stone triumph. Instead, the Sheepdogs gushed about touring with KOL. “We’re just as happy as you guys to be here tonight,” front man Ewan Currie told the audience. “We’ve been fans for a long time.”
And they may have the opportunity to be fans for a long time yet; all indications Wednesday night were that the Kings, to borrow a line from Jared Followill’s post-concert tweet, are back in business.
Kings of Leon with the Sheepdogs are in Calgary Sept. 30; Edmonton Oct. 1; Saskatoon Oct. 3; Winnipeg, Oct. 4; London, Ont., Oct. 8; Toronto Oct. 11; Montreal Oct. 14 and Ottawa Oct. 15.