Much has changed in the Kings of Leon world since they last appeared on UAE shores. In 2009 they were at the peak of the rock/pop world. ‘Sex on Fire’ and ‘Use Somebody’ were jamming airwaves across the globe. Two UK Brit Awards in March sealed their critical credentials.
Given what was to come, perhaps it’s unsurprising some audience members found the quartet’s October gig at the inaugural F1 underwhelming – two years later the band self-combusted, quitting halfway through a US tour amid a storm of infighting, indulgence and, at one performance in St Louis, bird faeces.
Starting a new leg of their Mechanical Bull tour in Dubai, if brothers Caleb, Nathan, Jared (and cousin Mathew) Followill had anything to prove from a return visit, they didn’t make it immediately clear to the Atlantis audience.
Kicking off 30 minutes after their billed start time with recent single ‘Supersoaker’ – a fitting introduction for a sticky crowd in the desert heat – the descendants of grandfather Leon served up an engaging but unremarkable hour and a half set which ticked off all the hits, bases and contractual obligations, but did little to further the Kings’ chapter in the pantheon of rock – something which at this point, 15 years and six albums into their career, they should be fighting so hard to achieve.
On paper Kings of Leon should be the most exciting band in rock today. Their blend of hillbilly slang and urban bite, of groove and growl, of influences past and present makes them, on record at least, an intoxicatingly heady and, well, like, thoroughly cool proposition. The amazing back-story – sons of a preacher man, on the run with rock ’n’ roll – is classic musical mythmaking. Put simply, Kings of Leon are one of those rare bands that could, and should, conquer critics and fans alike.
However like much of their recent output the Kings’ Atlantis gig felt lacking in both conviction, and perhaps, content. There were flashes of brilliance – a frantic seven-minute segue as the plodding pedestrian punk of ‘Don’t Matter’ led into vintage stompers ‘Molly’s Chambers’ and ‘Four Kicks’ was pure bottled rock ’n’ roll bliss. But sandwiched between slower and lamer material it felt more like a tribute to the raw, young and dumb quartet the band was a decade ago.
There were highlights. 2008 hit ‘On Call’ smouldered longingly, last single ‘Temple’ sounded perky and urgent, and radio anthem ‘Wait for Me’ stood out amongst an abundance of slow to mid-tempo tunes. While hardly verbose, frontman Caleb improved on his near-mute 2009 stage chat with unremarkable asides (it was hot, in case you missed it). But like the performance, it was difficult to find his engagement more than pleasantly perfunctory at times.
Leaving the stage with a reductively executed ‘Use Somebody’, the crowd was already bellowing prematurely for the super-hit ‘Sex on Fire’. The inevitable encore saw their wishes pacified.
‘He doesn’t even sing the words properly,’ I overheard one punter complain while Caleb made futile efforts to disguise his contempt for the hit-shaped beast he'd spawned.
‘He doesn't need to,’ I muttered in reply, turning from the stage to watch the thronging masses embrace in a fraternal unison for the inane refrain.
Leaving the stage for good little more than 90 minutes after they appeared, an MC’s booming voice declared the Kings of Leon the ‘best band we’ve had on this beach’. They’re certainly one of the biggest. But then biggest isn’t always best.