The O2 is a shit venue. Let’s get that straight, right from the outset. A soulless, echoey chasm that even a nuclear warhead would feel ashamed to call home. Silos around the world have inspired a better sense of bonhomie. It takes a special act to fill the gulf that yawns between the corporate boxes, the 50-quid-a-pop groundlings, and those lifted to almost Olympian status on the stage.
Step forward, Kings of Leon, aaaand…
Well, you gave it a good shot.
The southern rock four piece played a standout set on Thursday night, mixing the old with the very-old, with a smattering of newer songs thrown in for good measure. It was a set designed very much with fans in mind, and it showed they still have the muscle, the down-and-dirty tunes and the almost-subliminal basslines, to get a crowd jumping.
Which is a shame, because the crowd barely turned up. Looking across a sea of swaying arms, you had to wonder where the fire and the passion were. Where was the jumping, the sweat, the yelping, (and, later, who knows what else)?
To be fair to the audience, the band didn’t seem to be making too much of an effort either. For frontman Caleb Followill and guitarist Matthew, gone was the swaggering bravado, the down south dandy stylings, and even most of the hair. (As an aside, it may seem to those who follow the “they’re slowly getting shitter” school of thought that goodness is in direct relation to hairiness, demonstrated by Caleb’s literally letting his hair down for a belting rendition of The Bucket.)
The rhythm section kept their end up well, with bassist Jared keeping things low and sultry (and sporting some foppishly tight jeans), and the hairy, tattooed beast that is Nathan pounding the drums as if he feared they might otherwise rise up and swallow him whole.
Starting with hits from 2008’s Only by the Night, the band slowly backtracked through their opus, Holy Roller Novocaine had it’s first outing in half a decade, albeit in a less thrashy, more countrified style. Early rockers Molly’s Chambers, Four Kicks and Milk highlighted the band’s fightin’ and fuckin’ early years image, although clashing oddly with the receding, stripy-shirted father figure hugging his guitar in the middle of the stage.
One of only two new songs in the set, It Don’t Matter drew apathy from the crowd, but sleazy anti-authority anthem Knocked Up, with it’s slow boiling bass and deep-fried drawl, pulled them back to attention.
Then it was time for the obligatory offstage, stamp-and-clap, reappearance rigmarole of the well executed encore. Starting off with only the second new song of the night, Radioactive, the band paid their dues with Sex On Fire, before Black Thumbnail closed things off with a happy finish.
Well executed it may have been, and loud and rocking, but the venue means that even the most hardcore, whisky-swilling, coke-snorting, hooker-baiting firebrand risks raising as much hell as Justin Bieber when he’s just been grounded. The tunes were great, but it would probably be better to get in your car, chuck on your shades, and crank it up to eleven. And you wouldn’t have to queue for an hour to get home.