Published Jan 17, 2017Those who aren't fans of anthemic alt-rock outfit Kings of Leon — or who stopped following the mighty MOR act years ago — might be surprised to learn that their most recent record, WALLS (an album whose art we called the absolute worst of the year and which one of our editors, no joke, actually thought was called MILK — just look at that creamy cover to get why), is something of a new fan favourite.
Although (perhaps unfairly) critically derided (as per usual, save for the NME) like much of the band's discography, it was hard not to find a concertgoer singing along to whichever one of the album's many tracks were performed at the Air Canada Centre last night (January 16).
Opening the third night of their short North American tour was Atlanta, GA's Deerhunter. Headliners in their own right (though not at a venue this big), their appearance was the band's first in Toronto since being forced to cancel their 2015 appearance at TURF.
Known for his at-times confrontational and powerful stage presence, bandleader Bradford Cox almost seemed to be swallowed up by his surroundings in such a large setting, choosing to lurk in the shadows at the front of the stage as the band performed hits from across their catalogue, such as "Breaker" from last year's Fading Frontier, Monomania cut "Dream Captain" and "Helicopter," from their 2010 release Halcyon Digest (the latter sounded especially good in an arena, what with the song's echoing snare drum hits and chiming guitars).
A little leaner and less noodling compared to most of the band's other sets in the city, their sound was mostly lost on the sparse crowd, and it's hard to blame them; although Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill called Deerhunter one of their favourite bands and said that he was honoured to have them on the tour (frankly, even he seemed surprised they agreed to it), their music and fans seem like polar opposites of the modern rock spectrum.
By the time the Followill brothers (and cousin Matthew) took the stage, the massive Toronto venue started to resemble a sold-out show, with almost every seat in the house taken.
Starting things off with Come Around Sundown opener "The End," the band quickly pushed through a number of hits from their early career, including Aha Shake Heartbreak's "Slow Night, Slow Long," the bass-heavy "McFearless" and classic rockers "Four Kicks," "Molly's Chambers" and "The Bucket," all of which were met with mixed — at least compared to what was to come — reactions from the crowd.
After cover band bar staple "Sex on Fire," a curtain dropped on their minimalist stage set up and an extended, acoustic segue (save for Jared's bass guitar and a drum machine placed out of the spotlight), including "The Runner" and "Comeback Story," ensued. It all felt a little lame and indulgent — that is, until halfway through the title track from their new album, when the walls and curtains were literally lifted around them to reveal a previously covered chunk of the stage, two additional members on guitars and keyboards and a pretty spectacular light setup; it was cheesy if you know the song's lyrical content, but it's hard to imagine even the most resolute music snobs not finding that kind of reveal at least sort of special.
From there the Followills really got cooking, playing a string of late-career hits ("Radioactive," "Supersoaker"), call-backs to their early years (the slinky and spry "On Call") and a smattering of songs from their new album that almost all in attendance proudly knew the words to ("Waste a Moment," "Reverend" and real highlight "Find Me").
Saving their biggest hit for second last, the band got the whole venue singing along to "Use Somebody" before calling their crew on stage (after thanking them and their fans for sticking with them through the years) to pick up some pieces of percussion and play along to new number "Around the World," a track that took on new meaning live.
No encore was played, but, to be fair, the band barely took a break throughout their almost two-hour long set — not too bad for a Monday night in the middle of January.