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Kings of Leon at BST Hyde Park in London review: Rich, raw but occasionally stagnant rock

The Kings' minimal production stands in stark contrast to SZA's ambitious staging at BST the night before, writes Attitude's Jamie Tabberer

By Jamie Tabberer

Caleb Followill of Kings of Leon on stage at BST Hyde Park (Image: Dave Hogan)
Caleb Followill of Kings of Leon on stage at BST Hyde Park (Image: Dave Hogan)

A roving cameraman incessantly captured intimate shots of Caleb Followill as Kings of Leon played BST Hyde Park last night. And while the frontman didn’t sound strained, per se – his deep, honeyed voice has always been thrillingly raspy, and the odd cracked note is par for the course – he certainly looked it.

Now, don’t get us wrong. If anyone can handle extreme close-ups, it’s these painfully handsome, 00s-defining hipsters, who look uniformly awesome: Caleb forgoing his trademark grunge for an immaculately tailored blazer and Jared – who, at 37, could still be a supermodel – looking dapper in suede. At one point drummer Nathan even makes an England shirt look cool, which goes down well with the 65,000-strong, football-mad crowd.

It’s just that in a set otherwise lacking theatre, save for simple but arresting backlighting, only really effective after sunset, the rare bit of novelty afforded by the invasive camerawork quickly wears thin.

The big screen visuals, seemingly interrupted by a display error towards the show’s climax, are lovely: dusty neons, 70s fonts (“good vibrations only”) and sometimes eccentric imagery (my favourite was the ghostly sheeted figure.) But all this stands in stark contrast to SZA’s mind-bogglingly ambitious production at BST night before, and relates to a point made by Camila Cabello to the BBC over the weekend at Glastonbury. “[Female artists] work 10 times harder and put in 10 times more work in order to be seen, taken seriously and respected. Because of that, we’ve had to adapt to be stronger and better.” She has a point.

Still, KOL’s lack of on-stage trickery keeps the focus on the music, and their signature style of emotively gritty arena rock, all gnarly guitar and epic, bellowed choruses that occasionally sound the same. Before their music became overplayed with 2008’s crowd pleasing Only By The Night, the band’s songs were rawer and weirder: a generously long setlist here (29 in total) offers plenty of time to revisit them, from the earthy youthfulness of ‘Kings of the Rodeo’ to the mysterious, experimental ‘On Call’. (But no ‘Four Kicks’?! Seriously?!)

‘Sex on Fire’, a UK number one, lands early with a “huh?” from the crowd – people aren’t expecting it, and seem genuinely thrown – while the inferior ‘Use Somebody’ closes the show in suitably staggering style. Such moments are offset with atmospheric sparsity – long, stretched-out moments of tinkling piano; the gentle clashing of cymbals – proving the guys know what they’re doing. It’s just odd to think the band, once the most achingly cool people on the planet, now sound almost… vintage? Dare we say it… dad rock? Whereas SZA, who at 34, is only a generation below them, has teenagers eating out of the palm of her hand.

But hey – Jon Bon Jovi was 38 when ‘It’s My Life’ came out, and Lenny Kravitz 44 when he released ‘Fly Away’. We wouldn’t put it past the Kings to capture the zeitgeist again soon. They’re rock royalty after all.