Last night marked the much-anticipated return of rugged rockers Kings of Leon to Ireland, their Southern charm enough to demand three different nights in Dublin’s 3Arena. Three years since selling out Marlay Park’s 35, 000 capacity in 2014, it’s not surprising us Irish folk needed more than one evening with the boys from Nashville for their WALLS Tour. With support from Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, those with tickets for nights two and three are in for a treat bursting with soul with a rough, Southern twang. Those without tickets, you have permission to vicariously live through our experience – that’s what we’re here for folks – and purchase as soon as you can.
Formed back in 1999 and composed of brothers Caleb, Nathan and Jared, along with cousin Matthew Followill, every family ever suddenly seems incredibly underwhelming – how is it possible for 4 people from the same bloodline and generation to be that talented? Where is the even distribution?? Where is my talent?!?!
Eighteen years since their formation and 14 years since the release of their debut album Youth & Young Manhood (2003), it hasn’t been a case of burning bright and fading fast for Kings of Leon. Kicking off their career with a less than modest start, the 2003 debut album was hailed by NME as among the ‘best debuts of the past 10 years’ and included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die (You heard the man – get on it).
Despite the release of 6 further albums, the band’s discography has never been seen as a mere conveyor belt for the masses. From Aha Shake Heartbreak (2004) to Mechanical Bull (2013), it’s clear each album has its own inspiration, artwork and story, with the band’s token raw sound connecting each release with the familiarity that keeps a loyal fanbase wanting more.
The addictive appeal of each release from Kings of Leon explains the success of latest album WALLS. After a three year wait since 2013’s Mechanical Bull, WALLS’ release brought the band to number one album for the first time in the US and the Billboard 200 albums chart, along with number 1 in the UK, Ireland and New Zealand. Fun fact trivia time – the title serves as an acronym for ‘We are Like Love Songs’, continuing the band’s unwritten rule of five syllable album titles (Count ‘em all – we swear it’s true).
For an arena venue, Dublin’s 3Arena is pleasantly intimate – perhaps as intimate as you’re going to get for a band who can sell out to thousands in minutes. As the filtering crowd made use of the two bars by the stage and those sitting slowly found their seats, no one expected the sudden shift in energy Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats were about to deliver.
A sudden plunge into darkness and the boom of rows of spotlights welcomed screams as the Night Sweats walked on stage and launched straight into a jamming session of saxophones, trumpets, tambourines and guitars. The band of seven played until Rateliff strides on stage to the beat, hat on head and fingers snapping.
Now with a full stage, the band all dressed in black fluidly move in unison with the beat, playing tracks from their eponymous debut studio album released in 2015. Formerly a solo artist, Rateliff’s signature deeply expressive, soulful voice now has a heavy injection of rock and jazz with the Night Sweats. Even if the crowd weren’t familiar with the songs being played, nodding heads and tapping feet spread like an epidemic across the still growing crowd. Each song ended as a new song burst into motion, with exclaims from Rateliff such as ‘Sláinte!’ met with screams from the crowd.
Between the dark, deep red curtain behind the band, to the all black outfits, saxophones and ridiculously contagious beat, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats delivered a package that transported the crowd from an arena with a capacity for thousands to a dark, intimate jazz club from the 1930s. It was incredibly refreshing and infectious, the nodding head and tapping feet epidemic spreading faster with every song.
The band are the definition of ‘feeling’ music, with an ability to move with every changing beat as smooth as their saxophone sound. Red misty lighting lingers around the venue, pushing the jazz bar fantasy even further as the band swap their instruments for perfectly fitting harmonies for slower tracks such as Wasting Time. Leaving the crowd on a jazz high, the 8-piece conclude their set with track S.O.B, building claps and chants until the very last note. If anyone had entered the arena even slightly asleep, they were bright eyed and bushy tailed now – the nodding head and tapping feet epidemic spread too far to be cured. Looks like quarantine is the only option now.
The buzz from the support continues to linger as people assemble with beers and popcorn in hand, aware that with every ticking minute there is the potential for the much anticipated headliners to make their way on stage to kick off three huge nights of music. Suddenly, the venue is plunged into darkness and an instrumental starts, the screams of the crowd immediately filling the venue. The instrumental continues until the curtain swiftly rises, the venue positively exploding.
Kings of Leon throw themselves straight into Over, a track from their latest album, surrounded only by spotlights and mist creating dark, moving silhouettes throughout the whole track. As the song bursts into the bridge, screens to the left middle and right of the stage light up with footage of the stage.
The four deliciously rugged men bring their Nashville charm to the stage, their Southern twang heard through the raw vocals of frontman Caleb and the greasy licks of each guitar. The set moves fast from track to track, the shift in beat and visuals indicating that it was onto the next one. Through any brief decrease in volume the screams of the crowd are heard bursting through the heavy guitar and drums.
It became clear the band are men of few words, the lack of conversation more than made up for in constant flashing visuals, echoing vocals and guitar solos that shook the whole venue to its core. Kings of Leon have a sound that reverberates throughout the whole arena, no doubt even vibrating in the bones of anyone within a ten-mile radius. The seasoned band showcase their whole discography in a positively bursting set, playing tracks such as Mary and Use Somebody along with fresh releases like Reverend and Find Me.
For four people to walk on stage, say minimal and still command a crowd of thousands is testament to not only their talent, but their fan-base ready to welcome every single song without introduction. The few words that are communicated are more than enough to demonstrate how thankful the guys are for the crowd, how much they’ve missed playing in Ireland and inform us of their recent discovery that they’re actually a quarter Irish. Met with many, many screams – naturally.
The performance of title single WALLS from their latest album was a definite highlight, the beginning of which started with an empty stage, drawn curtain and instrumentals. Caleb returns to the stage and starts the single, solo and acoustic under a spotlight, his rough, echoing and emotive vocals bouncing from every wall. As the song builds, the response from the crowd grew with it, rising to create an amazing crescendo of guitar, vocals and crowd joining for one of the band’s most emotional tracks. The curtain suddenly rises to reveal the rest of the band, flashing lights and explosive visuals – the fastest shift from a crowd swaying and crying to jumping and going absolutely insane.
The band threw many thank yous in throughout their set, meaning their final one didn’t seem as obvious. After shouts of ‘bless you, we are Kings of Leon’, the band plunged into Waste a Moment, the opening track from their latest release. Despite being one of their fresher releases, the crowd hung on to and repeated every single word.
It was only when the final note ended and the band began their bows and throwing out of drumsticks that the crowd realised the set was actually over. There was no encore or dramatic monologue, the band simply playing out to the final second. After experiencing the boys live, it became apparent this was a band too cool to run back on stage with a ‘gotcha!’ encore moment, allowing more room for what mattered more – the music. Besides, who wants an encore when you could have an extra minute of looking at the Followill family, eh? Photos by Paulo Gonçalves.