Kings of Leon at The Sommet Center, 10/16/09

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Apparently the Kings of Leon can't take a joke. Midway through Friday night's sold-out Sommet Center homecoming performance, before more than 15,000 fans, singer Caleb Followill addressed their Nashville detractors who "talk shit" about and criticize them: "If any of them are here, I just hope they know how hard we work," he said. Could he really have meant little old us?

A few hours later, as we were being forcibly removed from their after party (presumably at the band's request, or their management's) by security, who relayed the message, "Don't think that you can write the shit that you write and then come down here and pretend like everything's cool"--it became abundantly clear just how thin Followill skin is.

We initially became concerned when, in what seemed like an attempt to shut us out of the proceedings, the band refused to give us any press spots to the show. Determined to see whatever sexy flames the brothers Followill were trying to keep from us, we managed to finagle our way into Sommet by more nefarious means, arriving just in time to see the lights go down and have our ear drums shattered by deafeningly high-pitched teeny-bopper screams. Obviously this forced us to miss some British band called White Lies and local openers Mother/Father--who we're told held their own before a sea of faces who were completely unfamiliar with their music. We extend a sincere congratulations to M/F.

It had been a few years since we'd seen KOL, and we were quite curious to see how they've evolved from fresh-faced Southern Strokes-abees to arena rock superstars. We had an open mind, and--as we always do at a spectacle of this size--wanted desperately to be entertained. Unfortunately KOL are the same boring onstage still-life they were back in the day, only now they have an incredible light and video show to make what's "happening" onstage seem exciting.

That said, this show did have a special hometown-boys-made-good reverence that inspired a little bit more passion than we're used to seeing. The crowd ate up every moment of it, greeting the opening notes of most songs with a roar--hits or not--and filling the colossal structure with a thousands-strong echo of each chorus. One would think that kind of adulation would be validation enough not to care what we think--especially when it coincides with the band's having the No. 1 single on the Billboard Top 40.The truth is, we do realize how hard they work. Watching 15,000 people watch the Kings of Leon was definitely awe-inspiring, and no one can deny them the phenomenal achievement of going from 12th & Porter to selling out the local enormodome. Whether some of us like it or not, KOL are Nashville's ambassadors of rock.

Still, they're just not a charismatic band in concert. They don't really engage the audience, and they play their songs as if miming to a recording. It's just hard to see them maintaining arena status five to 10 years down the road without producing another "Sex on Fire"- or "Use Somebody"-sized hit on their next record, as KOL are a textbook example of a band who've eschewed their cult following in favor of reaching a general and possibly more fickle audience. Since we never thought we'd see the band get to the level they're at now, the new challenge to the Kings is for them to prove us wrong on the previous statement.

The crowd--who offered us a nice preview of the fall lines for Ed Hardy, Abercrombie and Juicy Couture--made us feel like we'd bathed in an ocean of douchedom: dudes high-fiving each other like they're in the volley ball scene from Top Gun and sorority girls dancing like a 52-year-old virgin's Second Life creations. Their reactions gave the band their Nickelback moment during "Sex on Fire," their P.M. Dawn moment during "Notion" and their "Free Bird" moment during "Use Somebody."

After the show we succeeded in smuggling ourselves--sans passes--backstage, where we irrigated our brain cells with enough brown bottle to blot out memories of the mid-tempo hell the band put us through with their slew of sleepy latter-set torch ballads. Having successfully cracked both the show and backstage with no credentials (or money) we just had to go for the gold in our spree of interloping, and try our luck over at the super-exclusive fake-L.A. after party the band was hosting at Whiskey Kitchen.

A mere 10 or 15 minutes after arriving, we had our cover blown and were dishonorably discharged from the party by what we can only assume were the band's minions, who were meat-headedly oblivious to the fact that they were totes making our night. The finishing touch: their Secret Service-style ear pieces. (Ironically, we were at the very same bar two nights earlier, along with Kings of Leon, and nobody got kicked out.) Only a punch in the face by a band member--giving us that coveted Mario Puzo-Frank Sinatra moment--could have made our evening more complete. We can't wait for the next time Kings of Leon come to town. Spin for the win!

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