Kings of Leon, Sheffield Arena 10/06/2017

When I first heard that Kings of Leon were releasing a new album, WALLS, back in October, I was apprehensive to say the least. Not to sound too 'indie millennial who gets nostalgic about things that happened before their time', but KOL's first three albums, Youth and Young Manhood, Aha Shake Heartbreak and Because of the Times respectively, are firm contenders for my top records ever released by a rock band, the latter in particular, for it birthed my favourite song of all time, Charmer. I'd be lying if I said I was already a firm fan when Only By the Night was released, as I was 12 at the time and still in a transition period from pop to more guitar-based sounds, but it was the album that first introduced me to KOL. This is, of course, the band's most popular but contested release thanks to the global phenomenon that is Sex on Fire, up there with Mr Brightside as a staple track to any DIY DJ's setlist for birthday parties and family gatherings in the local function room.

For years, I felt bitter about their evolvement from the signature Southern rock and bluesy mood of the first three albums to the 'arena rock' sound of the latter albums. I thought cutting their hair and updating their wardrobes to satisfy the critical acclaim they were receiving was akin to selling their angsty, semi-grunge souls to a commercial world which would ruin both new releases and live renditions of their classic early stuff. Look at Come Around Sundown - an album comprised of comparatively chill songs fit for an afternoon on a beachside, not a cigarette and beer fuelled jam like the previous stuff. And I get the sense even the Kings themselves want to downplay Mechanical Bull as much as possible, so let's skip past that one.

So when they announced a show at Sheffield Arena as part of the WALLS tour, I spent a good six weeks debating whether it would be worth the hefty ticket fee - this is a band I associate fond memories with, a band who I can genuinely class as a long-term favourite, but also a band whose discography varies in quality, from so outstandingly good to painfully middle of the road. I eventually gave WALLS the benefit of the doubt, and the fact I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it was enough reason for me to buy a ticket and finally see the Kings live.

They were, thankfully, a delight. Though I wish they'd have included more songs from the first three albums (the absence of Molly's Chambers was something of a shock, to be honest) the slickness of their set was truly astounding, and there was only so much material from their seven albums they could cover in a two hour set. They killed it, no doubt about that, with Caleb's signature warbley vocal range carrying across the arena with the power of a rebellious choir boy, but the show did very much allude to the necessities of 'arena rock' - so a big emphasis on their post-Only By the Night material, the soft-rock ballads and karaoke floor fillers consisting of softer screams and better enunciation, but virtually none of their formative stuff (and no Charmer, obviously).

I've heard before that the band are kind of a bunch of assholes (the last time they came to Sheffield, they apparently made arena staff look away when they walked past). So I was pleasantly surprised to hear Caleb engaging in some patter with the crowd - granted, it was the standard "how y'all doing tonight?", but he did take a slight dig at support bands they've toured with in the past, confessing: "We'd like to thank The Sherlocks for playing with us tonight. We don't usually like bands who play before us, but we really liked these guys." This could, of course, be a lie he tells at every show with every new band, but as an unexpected riposte from a frontman known for his temperament, it was pretty funny. He did, also, pay tribute to those tragically killed in the Manchester attacks, and expressed the band's upset to not being able to play their scheduled show the night before.

Would I see them again? Probably. As one of the biggest and most in demand bands in the world, they're obviously going to prioritise their new material and most successful hits over their edgier songs that are more than a decade old. But I can forgive them for that, because honestly it's just worth it to see them play alongside each other in glorious rock harmony without throwing a strop and storming off.

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