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Last Night: Kings of Leon, The Black Keys at Superpages.com Center

Kings of Leon, The Black Keys
Superpages.com Center
September 23, 2010

Better than: the last time Kings of Leon came through town.

It just felt so comfortable--all of it, from the band's performance to their crowd's reaction and their own on-stage demeanor.

Kings of Leon, for better or worse, is finally comfortable with what they are. Or, rather, they're comfortable with what they've become--and with what they're becoming.

Last time we saw the Brothers (and cousin) Followill in Dallas, this wasn't the case. Not at all.

Back in October, at a not-even-close-to-sold-out show at the American Airlines Center in the wake of a headlining performance at the 2008 Austin City Limits Music Festival, there were kinks in these Kings' armor. They were clearly quite unsure of their place in the music industry--and this wasn't just something to be inferred from their awkward managing of the arena setting. No, lead King Caleb Followill basically admitted to as much during an on-stage rant directed at the attendees he could see leaving the arena after the band played its then-just-hitting radio single "Use Somebody," which found him calling them out as fake fans and then deriding the "so-called fans" the band's recent successes had accrued. It was an ugly moment amidst an otherwise entertaining set.

Last night, playing before an even bigger and far more receptive crowd at Superpages.com Center, the Kings thankfully offered up a performance devoid of such posturing. And, finally looking comfortable in their roles as rock stars, the band put on a high-energy display that managed to avoid the road-weariness that frontman Caleb warned the crowd that the band was currently feeling.

Right from the very start of their 90-minute set, which began just a hair after 9:30 p.m. and saw the band welcomed by a plume of smoke and a flurry of flashing red lights, Kings of Leon looked relaxed in their position atop the pedestal this audience placed them. All smiles and with a slew thankful (if also cliche) asides to the crowd at the ready, it was clear from the start that there would be no angry outbursts on this night.

Credit some time off and, more than likely, some perspective gained while in the recording studio, preparing the band's due-in-mid-October fifth full-length, Come Around Sundown, for the change of heart. On display last night wasn't a band bitter at the jaded slants the band saw thrown their way in the wake of the release of 2008's Only by the Night, but rather a band proud of that disc's commercial reception.

Still, let's make no mistake: Kings of Leon, if the new songs put on display in last night's set ("Mary," "Radioactive" and "Back Down South) are any indication, remain quite self-aware. The new Come Around Sundown tracks, each of which came with far more of a Southern rock bent than the U2 sheen of Only By The Night, appeared to come from a place of revisionist history, as if they were the more appropriate bridges between the Kings' material prior to Only By The Night and that disc's staunchly different (if unjustly scrutinized) direction.

Kings of Leon may be more comfortable now with Only By The Night's successes than they were in October 2009, the last time the band played Dallas, but they remain a band very much concerned with their reception; deeper cuts ""Trani" and "Black Thumbnail," which came at the end of the main and encore sets respectively, seemed to have such an intent behind their placement. The Kings may be comfortable with their place, but they still want to be received on their terms--as a band that has more to offer than "Sex on Fire" and "Use Somebody." And the crowd, now with fewer fair-weather fans in the court than before, was all too pleased to see the band to present itself as such.

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Earlier in the evening, main support the Black Keys, performing its final show of support for Kings of Leon at this show, offered up a set of their typical blues-heavy rock offerings, while proving themselves more than willing to show off their chops beyond this year's well received release, Brothers. Starting off with the aid of two added players backing main players Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach, the band's unfortunately too-short set was a ridiculously well-received one with the Kings of Leon crowd--and, understandably so, as each of these acts' songwriting comes from a certain nostalgic starting point. But, well received as this set was, and as impressive an energetic live show as Auerbach and Carney have come to offer, the big thing gleaned from this set was its volume--or lack thereof. Compared to Kings of Leon, the Keys' set was a rather quiet one. Blame either the general rule that the headliner gets turned up to a higher volume than its support in most venues, or see it as a smack in the face of people who oh-so-annoying discuss small outfits such as the Keys with eye-rolling remarks like "They make all this noise--and there's just two of them!" but, yes, their was a far quieter set than the Kings'. It wasn't necessarily tamer, though; if nothing else Auerbach proved himself a far more capable axeman than even the Kings' finest, Nathan Matthew.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
I actually think Kings of Leon's Only By The Night is an unfairly slighted release, if also a blatant change in direction for a band that, I, like so many others, have enjoyed in some capacity from the start. I'm very much looking forward now to Come Around Sundown, given what I heard at this show. And, I don't know if this is a "personal" bias, per se, but anyone with a semblance of interest in the landscape of contemporary rock 'n' roll had to have found this impressive bill, which also featured The Whigs, at least somewhat intriguing. I, unfortunately, missed the Whigs because I was stuck in traffic for half an hour, despite being within half a mile of the venue for the bulk of that time.

Random Note: Holy crap, the traffic was a nightmare getting to this show--and the State Fair hadn't even started for this one. It will be underway tonight, though, so those headed to Anthrax/Megadeth/Slayer at the same venue should plan accordingly.

By The Way: Interestingly enough, this show drew a far less Ed Hardy-clad crowd than the Kings' AAC show did.

Set List:

Molly's Chambers
My Party
Four Kicks
The Bucket
Sex on Fire
On Call
Back Down South
Knocked Up
Use Somebody
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