We’re at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey, in seats so far and high from the stage that if need be, my bleeding nose could be plugged by a New Jersey Nets banner hanging from the rafters. This is the epitome of an arena; I can almost sense the Zamboni whirling around at center ice between periods of a Devils game. There are people where that ice should be, crammed intently into an area in front of the stage, texting each other about what Caleb will be wearing—Caleb, being Caleb Followill, the lead singer for Kings of Leon. He’s dreamy, like a Leif Garrett for this generation, which is why this audience is predominantly female, giggling incessantly, made up and sporting the last shades of their Jersey Shore summer tans.
The band hits the stage and 15,000 camera phones click away in unison, beneath the maniacal screams of a demographic just slightly older than that of Jonas Brothers fans. The Kings are red hot right now. There are three charting tracks from their breakthrough fourth album, Only by the Night, yet they start off with “Closer,” a sluggish number with just enough oomph to get the ladies weaving and bobbing. Surprisingly, as they rambled through their 15-song set, I felt like I was being besieged with car commercial music: I was winding around cliffs and through neon highways, but never shifting out of second gear.
Caleb Followill is a one-of-a-kind singer in an average band, yet the faint energy put out from the setlist had faded long before it reached the cheap seats. It was a night for swaying while sitting, and not an evening full of shaking and sweating. I witnessed very little stage presence and a whole lotta Southern charm. This must be because the bulk of the new album is mired in midtempo murk and endless reverb unlike their earlier works, and after several tours with U2 in the recent past something may have rubbed the roughness out. You could hear it in songs like “Crawl,” “Revelry” and the “Purple Rain”-like “Cold Desert.” The mimicry was evident and almost rock-free.
And the full house neither noticed nor cared. They were too busy watching Caleb pour out his hotness with every breath behind the mic. By the time their super hit “Sex on Fire” came blaring out of the amps, the decibel level of teary shrieks and screams overtook the music, and Kings of Leon’s pop mission was accomplished