Wednesday 1 March 2017

Kings of Leon: Kings of the Castle

The Kings of Leon pack the kind of punch that will do this magnificient venue justice, says John Meagher

John Meagher

John Meagher

The Kings of Leon keep it in the family. The band is made up of brothers Caleb (second from left), Nathan and Jared Followill and cousin Matthew Followill (far left)
The Kings of Leon keep it in the family. The band is made up of brothers Caleb (second from left), Nathan and Jared Followill and cousin Matthew Followill (far left)

Pester power helped ensure that Kings of Leon would headline Slane this year. Lord Henry Mount Charles had long been a fan of the band, but it was the persistent appeals of three of his children, Alex, Wolfe and Tamara, that convinced him that this was the right act to play Slane's 30th anniversary show.





Henry's offspring were right on the money. If any contemporary band are capable of shrinking Slane's wide open spaces, it's this U2-endorsed quartet. Five albums into their career and they have more than enough material to enthral the die-hard fans -- and the merely curious -- for two hours or more.




To headline a concert of Slane's magnitude -- with its capacity of 80,000 -- you need songs that pack a punch at the back of the field, maybe 300 metres from the stage. I should know, I was a long, long way away when U2 played an emotional show there in 2001 but it didn't matter because the material was tailor-made for the enormous surrounds.

Kings of Leon have any number of songs -- 'Sex on Fire', 'Molly's Chambers', 'Radioactive' -- that can translate to a mass audience, just as most of the other Slane headliners have had over the years. From Queen and Bruce Springsteen to Robbie Williams and REM, Slane has frequently been played by acts at the very peak of their powers.

And that's where Kings of Leon are right now. Their show in the O2 captured a band that had made it to the stratosphere. Tomorrow's performance should cement that standing.

Here's Henry Mount Charles on their magnetism: "They're a huge band and they enjoy mass appeal. I was hooked the first time I heard them and I think that goes for an awful lot of people too. There will be an extraordinary cross-section of society at Slane Castle and that's testament to the wide appeal of the Followill clan."

Hailing from Tennessee, brothers Caleb, Nathan and Jared Followill -- sons of a Pentecostal preacher -- and their cousin Matthew Followill, made a significant critical impact with their 2003 album, 'Youth and Young Manhood'. Raw, unadulterated rock, it earned the group the 'Southern Strokes' sobriquet. But it wouldn't be long before their sales eclipsed that of the Strokes.

It took time before the wider public would embrace their classic brand of Southern-fried rock, however. Their debut Irish appearance -- at Oxegen's smallest stage that year -- attracted just a few hundred punters.

But it was their sophomore release, the curiously titled 'Aha Shake Heartbreak', that made the band critical darlings. One of the most potent albums of 2004, it's packed with gilt-edged anthems, such as 'The Bucket', 'Taper Jean Girl' and 'Four Kicks', all of which are likely to be aired tomorrow night.

Their fifth album, 'Come Around Sundown', was released last October and has sold an estimated 100,000 copies in Ireland to date. The band's record company, Sony, is hoping that the album might yet out-perform its predecessor, 'Only by the Night', which sold 120,000 in this country alone. To put that figure into context, even U2 were not able to match those sales in their own backyard when their latest album came out.

There's no doubt about it, Kings of Leon are a phenomenon in a music industry that has been left reeling from a culture of illegal downloads. "It's a bit of a throwback to the pre-internet era," says Sony Music Ireland's general manager Patrick Hughes. "Their success is classic word-of-mouth and they have grown the old-fashioned way. Each subsequent album has sold more than the one before. That's almost unheard of today and it's partly because the band are unashamedly ambitious. They want to reach as many people as they can and sell lots of albums. Unlike other bands, they make no apologies for that."

Hughes believes their impact is very much driven by the quality of the songs. "They are all about classic rock 'n' roll and that appeals to a huge audience, from people who fell in love with music in the 1960s to the youngest generations today."

Mount Charles echoes those sentiments: "They're a rock band in the old sense of the word. Everything is centred on a hugely charismatic frontman and the music is built around the classic sound of guitars, drums and bass. In that respect, they're not a million miles away from Thin Lizzy. I know that they're huge Lizzy fans, so I'm delighted to have our very first headliners on the bill too."

That first year -- 1981 -- saw 18,000 fans descend on Slane. Tomorrow, the capacity will have swelled to 80,000. It's a sign of Kings of Leon's potency that they sold out that figure in just 40 minutes, making it one of the fastest selling shows ever staged in this country. That achievement would have been remarkable in the boom years, but in straitened times it's even more impressive. And the Followills' appeal to Irish audiences appears to know no bounds. Just days after Slane sold out, a further 14,000 tickets were put on sale for a one-off date in the O2 in Dublin, just prior to Christmas. All were gone within minutes.

Incredibly, the band could have have shifted many more tickets in Ireland. Fans unable to secure tickets for Slane vented their frustration at losing out on message boards. Many regaled other posters with their tales of queuing up at record shops only to be told their allocation was gone, while others studiously manned the Ticketmaster phone line only to suffer a similar fate.

There were even calls for a second Slane gig, but the Lord of the Castle was having none of it. "The U2 situation in 2001 was different. That was an Irish band making their only Irish appearance in years. I might have been lynched had I not put on the second show!"

Meanwhile, Henry reckons Kings of Leon could pull off one of the best ever Slane performances. "I think they have what it takes to deliver a gig that truly lives in the memory. They're young and hungry and they have the material to captivate 80,000 people."

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