In the pantheon of all time miserable shows, I'd rank last night's Kings of Leon show at Comfort Dental right up there with MGMT at Red Rocks last month, DeVotchKa's set at Monolith in 2008 and night two of the Fray's three-night stand at Red Rocks. The thing all of these concerts had in common -- besides the fact that all of them, with the exception of Kings, were at Red Rocks -- is the utterly convincing notion that Mother Nature can be one scornful, vindictive bitch when she wants to be.
Built to Spill -- who, along with the Features opened the show, and who we missed entirely, save for a blistering five-minute guitar solo/jam during its last song -- has a song called "Randy Described Eternity," in which Doug Martsch sings the words:
Every thousand years/This metal sphere/Ten times the size of Jupiter/Floats just a few yards past the earth/You climb on your roof/And take a swipe at it with a single feather/Hit it once every thousand years/`Til you've worn it down to the size of a pea/Yeah I'd say that's a long time/But it's only half a blink in the place you're gonna be
If you didn't know any better, you'd swear Martsch had written those words just last night, inspired by the excruciating long waits we all had to endure at the start of the evening. First it was to pick up our tickets at will call, then it was waiting to be patted down as we made our way into the venue -- part of the reason we ended up missing Built to Spill in the first place -- and then there was the agonizing set changeover.
All told, it only took about a half hour to break down Built to Spill's gear and test the levels for Kings (about fifteen minutes more than what seems reasonable), but sitting there drenched, sans a poncho or umbrella, while enduring a slight yet unforgiving breeze, it seemed like seventeen months. These guys better fucking be good to make sitting through this crap worth it, I scoffed. (Needless to say, I was in an extremely foul mood by then.)
Fortunately, they were, and it was. As twin plumes of red smoke billowed from both sides of the stage, the Kings made their entrance and kicked off the show with "Crawl." Around this time, the rain miraculously stopped falling -- or so it seemed. Turns out, we just had something else to focus on and so we no longer noticed, but it did continue to drizzle for the better part of the band's set.
From there, the Kings dove straight into a setlist that, refreshingly, appeared to deviate slightly from the one they'd been playing on the rest of the tour (at least from what's posted at Setlist.fm). Although, as the guy behind us pointed out towards the end of the set, "there's a page of songs they still haven't played" -- which was later co-signed by another dude on the train ride home afterward who said, "there was at least nine songs I needed to hear that they didn't play" -- Kings' set contained a healthy mix of new and old songs.
"Slow Night, So Long," a bass-driven tune, sounded especially good, thanks to a notably favorable low end mix (one that almost proved to be distracting on some of the more guitar-centric tunes), as did other songs that peppered the set, "Taper Jean Girl," "Molly's Chambers" (a tune in which two lads close to us were forcibly removed, presumably for fighting), "Notion," "On Call," "Trani," and the new songs, "Immortals," "Mary," "Southbound" and "Radioactive" (?) -- think those were the names, anyway; not completely positive, though, since none of the songs were given proper introductions.
Well, that's not entirely true, actually. Midway through the set, Calleb Followill did introduce "Sex On Fire." With a tinge of barely detectable contempt in his voice, he said something along the lines of "Okay, we're giving you what you want now. So sing along." My guess is that song is sort of an albatross at this point.
Despite the fact that the band owes much of its current notoriety to that tune -- before that single broke through on mainstream radio, Kings of Leon would've been hard pressed to fill a shed the size of Comfort Dental; take a look at the crowd it attracted at Monolith in 2007 -- it's probably long since lost its luster. Be that as it may, even if the group performs it somewhat begrudgingly these days, it sounded as good as ever. As did Followill's voice, maybe even better.
Red Rocks, Monolith, 2007
At one point during the set, Followill remarked about how every time they come to Denver it seems to get a little better. He was presumably talking about the band's shows, but the same can be said for the band itself. While I missed their show at the Fillmore in 2008, I was at that Monolith gig, and I was also there last August for their show at Red Rocks. I was completely bored the first time I saw them, a little less so the next time, and after this gig, I immediately wanted to go and listen to their records again.
Red Rocks, Monolith, 2007
Maybe the band has hit its stride -- it certainly seems far less preening and pretentious than it did a few years ago -- or maybe my ears have just become more finely tuned. Whatever the case, it's hard to imagine this band sounding any better. Followill agreed, wondering aloud how things could get any better -- kind of ironic considering they've played Red Rocks twice, once as a headliner.
Red Rocks, 2009
The stage show this time around was also better, and that could've had something to do with the band's overall appeal. Dwarfed by an elaborate lighting rig that resembled some sort of mutant, hobo-cyborg art installation, with what looked like a cluster of glued-together, backlit, misdirected hubcabs turned in every direction, the band seemed to finally fill the bigger than life arena rock shoes it was prematurely fitted for some years ago. There were also plenty of other cool moments that must've escaped my notice when I'd seen the band previously, like how Matthew Followill created an eerie, pulsating, feedback-like texture to "Closer" by singing into the pickups of his hollow body.
"Closer" from last night
By the time the band launched into its encore with "Knocked Up," and followed with "Use Somebody," I simply couldn't wipe the stupid smile from my face. As miserable as the elements were and despite the fact that I was now chilled to the bone by my rain-soaked clothes, I'd all but forgotten about the rain. And when I look back on this show in the years to come, I'm sure it probably won't seem all that miserable after all.
"Knocked Up" from last night
Critic's notebook and set list is after the jump.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: The first time I saw Kings of Leon at Monolith, I derided them in a casual conversation with a friend as Kings of My Ballsack. I wasn't converted until the following year, when, like most everyone else on the bandwagon, I fell in love with "Sex On Fire," and that was thanks to KROQ, who played the absolute hell out of the tune during a Thanksgiving week road trip to California. Though I've since gained an appreciation for the rest of the band's catalog, Caleb Followill's comments during that song were clearly directed at people like me. Sorry, dude. By the Way: Taking light rail to Comfort Dental saves you the tedium of having to white-knuckle your way through traffic to the Denver Tech Center during rush hour and then having deal with parking and all that. The Arapahoe station's a stone's throw from the venue. Highly recommended. Well worth the money. Random Detail: Curiously, when he talks, Caleb Followill's speaking voice makes him sound a lot like Joaquin Phoenix. It's kind of weird. If Followill grew his hair and beard out a bit, donned some Wayfarers and started rapping, only Phoenix's mother would be able to tell the difference.
Kings of Leon 07.20.10 | Comfort Dental Amphitheater Greenwood Village, CO
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Crawl Slow Night, So Long Taper Jean Girl Immortals Molly's Chambers Fans Milk Closer Mary Four Kicks The Bucket Sex on Fire Notion On Call Southbound Trani
Knocked Up Use Somebody Black