As a rule I try hard not to be the guy who says, “I was listening to them way before they got famous.” That is what hipsters say as they wipe PBR out of their ironic mustaches. But when it comes to the Kings of Leon I feel like I am allowed. They have been my favorite band since I picked up their Holy Roller Novacaine EP (It was 99 cents at the register of my local record store. Total impulse buy.) in 2002. That summer I wore that disc out.
They had a completely unique sound, equal parts The Strokes and Lynyrd Skynyrd. At the time I was all about anything that was proto-grunge or nu-metal (Except Limp Bizkit. Boo Limp Bizkit always and forever.) I credit the Kings with getting me into indie, alt-country, garage rock, etc, etc, etc. Basically, my whole music snob existence can be traced back to a single moment.
The first time I saw them live was in late 2003 in Kansas City at a little cowboy bar, a couple months before Aha Shake Heartbreak was supposed to come out. There were only about 30 of us in the place but they played like it Madison Square Garden. I could tell they loved the music that they were playing, and over the years they became the one band me and my friends could all agree on.
Fast forward to today and the Kings are one of the biggest bands in the world. They have millions of dollars, multiple Grammys, and a huge, adoring audience, but they seem to be constantly immersed in personal drama. There was the pigeon poop thing that made them look like babies, there was the Glee drama that made them look like uppity a-holes, and now they just cancelled an entire tour because of exhaustion (aka rehab) that not only leaves a bunch of fans pissed off but it bones Band of Horses, their opener and all around awesome guys.
Really, they just strike me as being very unhappy. Take it from someone who has been going to Kings shows from the very beginning, this is not the same band. The energy is gone. The fun is gone. They look like they are up there doing work.
Americans may not know this, but they have been playing stadiums in Europe since the release of Aha Shake Heartbreak and Because of the Times. They were receiving critical acclaim (Except for Pitchfork) stateside but that was not translating into American fans and judging from interviews that seemed to gnaw at them. You could tell they desperately wanted to be popular back home.
To do this they made an album, Only By the Night. I am not here saying the songs are bad they are just so bland and generic. They made a Three Doors Down album. Everything that made them unique and appealing to me, in the first place, had been put aside in the hopes of making a little something for everyone.
Honestly, I can tell you that, as a fan, I felt cheated. At this point they weren’t playing dives anymore. We saw them in KC a couple months before at packed theater. They were being supported here, but apparently it wasn’t enough. They got greedy.
But hey, it worked and they got the honor of being overplayed just like their peers. Now I want to shove spikes in my ears every time “Sex on Fire” or “Use Somebody” comes on. Great, now I am unable to listen to my favorite band.
Now they are experiencing what its like to have shitty fans and I think its totally bumming them out. You might be asking, “What do you mean: shitty fans?” Let me give you some quick, first hand examples.
One: My friend watched them perform at Lollapalooza right after “Use Somebody” became the second hit off of Only By the Night. At the end of the set the guy in front of him turns to his friend and says, “Yeah, you’re right. They do only have two good songs.”
Two: We saw them at Red Rocks in Colorado and the placed was packed. They played “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” towards the end of the set and after those two songs were over people started to leave even though it was the middle of the encore and they were playing a brand new song.
Three: An acquaintance: “Have you heard of Kings of Leon?”
Me: “I sure have.”
Acquaintance: “They are my favorite band. I need to get their album.”
Me: “Which one.”
Acquaintance: “They have more than one?”
These are the King’s “fans” now. The diehards who know every lyric to every song have been replaced by those people. That would bum me out, too. By watering down their music to appeal to a mass audience they have lost fans like me and gained casual fans. People who will buy a ticket just to say they did and spend the bulk of the set making trips to the beer cart instead of being there for the music. It really makes me sad because they were such an important part of the development of my musical taste.
I fear they may be lost, especially if you take into account how below average their latest, Come Around Sundown, turned out to be. I am hoping after Caleb gets some “rest,” maybe makes a solo album, they will put all the bullshit aside and remember what made them great in the first place. At this point I’m not all that confident of a happy ending but I will continue to hope. Until the real Kings of Leon returns I will have to be content with my happy memories.