Kings of Leon rule with epic anthems

By Marc Hirsh
Globe Correspondent / April 20, 2009
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It's good to be the Kings of Leon. With their first gold album, two No. 1 Modern Rock singles, and the cover of the latest Rolling Stone, the group named for the Pentecostal preacher who fathered three of its members (and uncled the fourth) is finally reaping the rewards of years of touring and "It Band" attention from critics. At Agganis Arena on Saturday (the first of two sold-out nights), they proved that they could hold their own in the big leagues.

Working in their favor was the epic-leaning, new wave-influenced anthems that folks have been fooling themselves into calling Southern rock solely because of the band's biography. The oceans of guitar and Coldplay-ish chants of "Use Somebody" filled the arena handily, and the chorus of "Sex on Fire" easily justified the stage lights flashing and spinning out into the audience.

Driving many of the songs was Jared Followill's bass, which churned during "Charmer" and the popping, off-kilter "McFearless" and thrummed during "Notion" and "Cold Desert," which with its lyrical guitar and deliberate tempo was "Purple Rain" as played by the Cure. The bassist also provided a buzzing rumble on "My Party," giving it a disco flavor echoed in the pulsating "Heart of Glass" feel he gave to "Fans."

The size of the venue had its drawbacks. Guitarist Matthew Followill appeared to be playing with his teeth during "Closer," but the darkness and distance of the stage made it hard to know for sure. The combination of singer Caleb Followill's diction and the cavernous space swallowed the lyrics, so that often all that could be heard was his yowling rasp.

But the band was mostly up to the challenge, which is why the slow-moving and subdued run of songs during the encore ended up being a bit of a drag. Then again, maybe that was inevitable after the Kings of Leon ended the main set with "Slow Nights, So Long." With its open-ended chords, high bass riff, and skipping drums, it was flying and shuddering all at once.

Openers the Walkmen aimed for Interpol-style atmospheric tension, but they mostly offered a sound in search of an identity. Most of the musicians spent their time looking too cool to be in the band, to the extent that singer and guitarist Hamilton Leithauser could barely be bothered to move his strumming arm.


With the Walkmen

At: Agganis Arena, Saturday