“I remember “Sex on Fire”, that was a good one. I don’t know if they’ve released much since.”
If that sentence initially sounds like a fanciful journalistic fabrication used to construct a narrative, it’s definitely not: a person in Row M at Auckland’s Spark Arena could be heard saying that as Kings of Leon made their way onstage on Sunday night.
Such casual observers, though, were few in number in the venue, with thousands of impassioned fans of the Followill brothers singing back almost every word during the band’s first of two nights in Auckland.
In an appropriate twist of fate, the Row M person had to wait until the very end to hear their favourite song. Before the instantly familiar notes of “Sex on Fire” sparked up, they – and us – were treated to a night of consummate stadium rock.
For if Kings of Leon’s commercial peak was almost 15 years ago now – the mammoth album Only by the Night, which contained the likes of “Sex on Fire”, was a rock revelation in 2008 – they’ve not gone anywhere since. Last year’s eighth studio album, When You See Yourself, was a chart-topper in Australia and reached a respectable 11th on the US Billboard 200.
Watching them onstage on Sunday night, it’s clear why they keep churning out the stadium rock goods. The four-piece are effortlessly entwined as a group (they are siblings after all), Nathan often looking like he could put on a pair of slippers and read Proust at the same as performing his exquisite drumming.
Even more notably, they were performing far from peak condition. “We’re on four hours of sleep,” lead singer Caleb informed the crowd midway through their set; it’s probably why the audience banter was also kept to a minimum. His vocals, while never reaching for supreme heights, were remarkably solid considering the lack of sleep.
The band’s set, whether owing to extreme tiredness or something else, did lag, the tendency for stadium rock songs to coalesce into each other becoming noticeable. But that’s what a pulsating anthem like “Radioactive” was for, a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency hit that immediately got the audience’s feet stomping. Whenever the set threatened to get repetitive, there was another song like “On Call” to save proceedings.
It’s been a long time since Kings of Leon were in New Zealand, and looking around at the audience, it seemed like many of them had been waiting a long time for this moment. If the minimal sleep had fully gotten to Caleb, the singer unable to continue, you felt like his legion of Kiwi fans inside Spark Arena would have been perfectly happy to take over for him. They’d been waiting over a decade to belt out these songs after all.
Following their brief Auckland sojourn, the Nashville rockers are now in Australia for several shows, beginning in Mildura on Saturday, October 29th (see full dates here). With more time to prepare properly, the Followill brothers should sound much sharper for Australian audiences.