Every band has to make sacrifices to make a career out of their music, but Kings of Leon’s story is perhaps more arduous than most. Living out of an ’88 Oldsmobile throughout a nomadic, itinerant youth; firing up a southern-rock group with your two brothers; pilfering your cousin from the very bosom of his Mississippi home and making him play bass, just to appease the stipulations of your record company. Fast-forward eleven years, and if your band, forged in such humble beginnings, was playing to sixty-five thousand revellers in London’s Hyde Park, what would your reaction be?
The final note of ‘Black Thumbnail’ has just rung out, and as his fellow band-members saunter off stage, Caleb Followill lingers behind, soaking up every last second of the scene before him. It’s just past ten, and a crimson sun is setting behind a rapt audience, his audience, every mouth screaming and every pair of hands clapping for his band.
The Kings played not only the headliner role, but also that of party organisers for their Hyde Park show. Yet despite a plethora of talented, upbeat sets from the likes of The Drums and The Black Keys, it was a relatively tepid atmosphere not in keeping with the stifling Wednesday heat which greeted the late afternoon warm-up acts.
Yet the semi-apathetic throng becomes a baying horde as KOL emerge from behind what appears to be a wall of crushed cars, before launching into the bass-laden ebb of ‘Crawl’. Caleb, sporting a Springsteen-esque light-blue denim jacket with an extravagant American flag on the back, then proceeds to creakily bleat out ‘Taper Jean Girl’ and ‘My Party’.
The Kings could perhaps be criticised for sticking to their most recognisable material, as a ravaging rendition of ‘Molly’s Chambers’ is followed by more tempered, slower performances of ‘Fans’ and ‘Milk’. Any slight disparagement I flirt with, however, is roundhouse-kicked to the floor by KOL treating us, in typical hot-headed fashion (and against the wishes of their management), to four new songs, ‘Immortals’, ‘Radioactive’, ‘Mary’ and ‘Southbound’, which seem akin to the arena-rock overtones of current album ‘Only By The Night’. The band also chooses to cover the Pixies track ‘Where Is My Mind?’
A pause, and then Matthew nonchalantly starts picking the instantly recognisable riff of ‘Sex On Fire’. There’s a rib-breaking surge forward, and a deafening, sixty-five thousand strong bellowing of the chorus. Jared pouts and swings his hips through ‘Notion’, sunglasses hanging from the neck of his T-shirt, and the Kings encore with a wailing recital of ‘Use Somebody’ and the ear-pounding ‘Black Thumbnail’, to rapturous appreciation.
Caleb flings his guitar picks into the audience, and stares disbelievingly at the legions of the Kings’ adoring subjects. A short while later, Nathan is updating his Twitter page. “London, you cheeky bastards,” he quips, “you just gave us the highlight of our career.” And the highlight of my summer, too.