Monday 20 May 2019

Review - Rock: Kings of Leon, Marlay Park, Dublin

Kings of Leon performing at Marlay park. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos.
Kings of Leon performing at Marlay park. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos.

Ed Power

The theory that charisma is an essential part of a rockstar's toolkit is severely tested by Kings of Leon, four southern United States bits of rough whose stage presence has all the wattage of a flickering nightlight.

Somehow, this trio of stylishly hirsute brothers, plus a scowling cousin, have ascended rock's most dizzying peaks — they effortlessly packed Slane three years ago — while barely cracking a smile. Forget living wild or rocking hard: their greatest talent may be their ability to make playing arenas seem the dullest chore in the world.

The absence of spark is especially remarkable as they are visibly trying to put on a spectacle. Frontman Caleb Followill delivers several monologues about his adoration for Dublin; how they're not going to allow the blustery weather to get in the way of a killer concert. And they've stuffed the set with hits, hunky anthems with super-size choruses and plenty of singalong highlights. Could we ask for more?

A smidgin of flesh-and-blood passion would be a start. Despite their reputation as brawling, boozing, bad boys, from the back of windswept fields, Kings of Leon are shockingly inert.

You begin to wonder what the opposite of ‘rocking out' is — rocking ‘in'? Whatever it is, Kings of Leon (right) are past masters. Accompanied by workaday video projections they stand there, singing, thunking guitar, looking glum. Strictly speaking, that is all their job description demands but as everyone from Bono to Garth Brooks understands, part of a stadium headliner's duties is to make the vast feel personal; the bombastic, intimate.

The fact is Kings of Leon aren't at the races when it comes to striking a connection with their audience. Instead, they let their music communicate on their behalf.

Sometimes, the tunes are good enough to paper over the lack of showmanship: ‘Supersoaker’ and ‘Use Somebody’ are tidy chunks of Led Zeppelin-esque tight-jeans rock; ‘The Bucket’ and ‘Trani’ blend Appalachian mystique and all-you-can-eat swagger, permitting you to briefly buy into the idea that Kings of Leon are glorious throwbacks to a bygone age of lock-up-your-daughters excess.

In isolation, each of these moments is compelling and engaging. Strung end to end, however, it's ultimately underwhelming. Kings of Leon clearly take their craft seriously — but their stolid live show is difficult for the agnostic attendee to love.

‘Sex On Fire’, their biggest smash, is rolled out for the encore — by which point it is clear the one thing Kings Of Leon don't know how to do is set a performance alight.

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