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ACL Fest Review: Kings of Leon

Staff Writer
Austin 360

By Michael Corcoran

Editor’s note: This article was originally published October 6, 2013

There are two kinds of Kings of Leon fans: the diehards, who know every album cut, and the browsers, who heard “Use Somebody” on radio and TV five years ago and bought the album it was on. Unfortunately, for those of the latter variety, they probably left before “Use Somebody” came out at the hour and a half mark Saturday night. It was cold, but KoL was colder.

Kings of Leon are the Mack Brown of ACL headliners; we all know this is the last year. But rather than come out with guns ‘a blazing to win over the big festival crowd, they seemed more intent on pushing the new album, “Mechanical Bull.” It’s a real good record, but it’s been out only 10 days; give the audience the chance to get to know the songs. Opening with the obscure oldie “Black Thumbnail,” the band went straight into a smattering of new ones and didn’t really light a fuse until “Fans” and “Back Down South” about halfway through the set.

The only way Kings of Leon could’ve tested loyalty more would’ve been to prick the fingertips of every audience member. Subsequently, the Bob Marley song of which the set was most reminiscent was not “Jamming,” but “Exodus.” The crowd was already relatively small for a Saturday headliner, but by the time Caleb and the Followills got to such longtime faves as “Molly’s Chambers,” “Knocked Up” and “On Call,” there were maybe 7,000 fans left. But they all sang along and danced to the engine-like rhythm section and Caleb Followill’s scratchier-than-normal vocals.

There was little other communication with the crowd except for all the “It’s good to be in Texas” and “How’s everybody doing?” cliches.

When they closed the set after and hour and 50 minutes with “Sex On Fire,” I went walking back to the exit and caught the last 10 minutes of the Cure. Now THAT’S a great band. Until then, I thought the KoL set was pretty good, but nothing that was going to convert new fans. Now I’m wondering why anyone would choose them over the Cure.

Play what the people want. Especially in a big field on a cold night when “Boys Don’t Cry” is going to be the last song they hear. Early on, Caleb F., who looks a tad like middle-aged Levon Helm at this point, promised that this would be a long, special show and the band dug in to give that to fans. In the end, however, the set was forgettable except for one special moment. The crowd’s lusty singalong on “Use Somebody” showed how many were still left. And how many still cared.