Over the weekend: Kings of Leon at Red Rocks

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Kings of Leon, The Whigs
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Red Rocks
Better than:
Listening to generic music on the radio.

I had no problems with the delivery. The Kings of Leon's set at Red Rocks on Sunday didn't suffer from any bum notes, off chords or flubbed lyrics. The quartet offered a solid performance, one that encapsulated the group's best known radio hits and one that spurred the capacity audience to enthusiastic responses. But the show missed on a more general level. The endless procession of generic, three-minute poppy rock tunes wore thin after the first hour or so, and the group's respectable delivery and rapport with the massive crowd couldn't make up for the familiarity by the end.

Notwithstanding the Kings of Leon's easily digestible riffs, well-executed guitar solos and pithy format, the show could have used a bit more experimentation and daring. Considering the size and scope of the venue, such touches would have helped lighten the patterns that became all too tiresome by the end of the night.

This dynamic was paralleled in the Whigs' opening set. The Athens-based trio offered 4/4 beats, basic rock riffs and stints of distortion. With a tame lyrical approach, one that included vague suggestions about not smiling and nebulous updates about keeping feelings at bay, the Whigs offered no arresting or amazing moments in terms of verses. Still, the band helped pave the way for the headliners their hooky riffs and solid rhythms. Guitarist Parker Gispert offered catchy melodies on tunes like "Right Hand on My Heart," and Julian Dorio and Tim Deaux provided a solid backup on drums and bass. Still, the set offered little in the way of groundbreaking or intriguing moments.

Unfortunately, the tame quality of the Whigs' set would find a corollary in the main act. The Kings of Leon came out swinging with some of their best-known tunes, songs that have found wide currency on the radio. As the group offered well-honed live versions of "Be Somebody," "Charmer" and "Sex on Fire," the crowd responded enthusiastically. Every new riff elicited a reaction, and the rows were teeming with fans singing along word-for-word. It was a spectacle enhanced by a series of digital screens behind the band, canvases that bore distorted images of the Followill brothers and of geometric patterns that shifted with music.

The group also offered the requisite paeans to the venue and to the crowd, as Caleb Followill declared early on in the set that, "This is one of the most beautiful crowds I've ever seen." It was a tribute that seemed pulled from the pages of rock and roll hyperbole, and its familiarity aligned with the overwhelming familiarity of the set. For the group's skill in pounding out dynamic, digestible and safe songs for several hours, something seemed absent at Red Rocks on Sunday night. Maybe it was the absence of intriguing instrumental breaks, extended solos or musical risks.

Whatever their skill for commercial rock, the Kings of Leon could have brought more risks to the vast stretches of Red Rocks auditorium.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: In terms of contemporary Southern rock, I lean more toward the acoustic strains of bands like the Avett Brothers.
Random Detail: The band implemented a wide range of restrictions for the Red Rocks crowd - blankets, water and bottles were all prohibited at Sunday's show.
By the Way: The intense hail and rain that hit Denver on Sunday night missed Morrison entirely.

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