Kings of Leon Occupy Higher Ground

Indie rockers Kings of Leon came to Higher Ground in South Burlington last Tuesday, liberating their vocal chords and guitar strings from idle dullness. The Tennessee kinfolk played a set of pure electricity, but one would think the audience was made of proverbial rubber, as the show was underappreciated at best. Taking nothing away from the Kings’ ridiculously powerful performance, the concert experience as a whole was mired in mediocrity. Often though, the after-party outshines the party. The night began at Higher Ground with a performance by The Like, L.A.’s all-girl version of, well, they were definitely all girls. Their sound is hard to pinpoint but the lead-singer and guitarist, Z Berg, sounds remarkably like Garbage front-woman Shirley Manson singing to a background of simple but arresting percussion, and a bass that counterpoints Z’s voice effectively, if tritely. Regardless of The Like’s lack of celebrity, the she-band’s passion and talent deserved more than what the sullen crowd furnished. At one point Berg got on the microphone to ask, “By the way, we’re The Like. Are you guys alive out there?” It was a valid question. The crowd was so…like…dead. Standing at the bar with some friends, I attributed the audience’s middling reaction to the time of night-it was still early. More people would arrive by the time Kings of Leon took the stage, and maybe they would not be so reserved. The Kings of Leon, made up of Caleb, Matthew, Jared and Nathan Followill coolly strolled onto the stage around 10:15 in front of a crowd less than half the capacity of Higher Ground. A couple flicks of drummer Nathan’s sticks, and all of a sudden the Kings were shooting shards of rough, toned glass from their amps into the ears of the waiting audience. Matt Followill scraped a clean but loud harmony from his lead guitar. Caleb’s voice punched high-pitched holes in the air, answered by measures of healthy kicks from Jared’s bass. They were on. Their energy was unfathomable, their emotion out of control. The sound was pure, forceful, rock & roll. The crowd was completely and utterly-stagnant. Save for a small group of people huddled at the front of the stage, this crowd (which should no longer be referred to as a crowd but rather as an assembly of Quakers) was lifeless. The Kings rocked away on stage while the on-looking congregation wasted away on the ground. At this point I was reveling in the personal and genius lyrics hand-penned by the band, and every time I took a precious second to look away from the stage at the crowd behind me, I could not but help think of one specific Kings of Leon lyric: “People can be so cold when they’re dead…” I have been to more concerts than I can count, and some of them have been short of expectation, less than wonderful. But such instances are a result of bad acoustics, a weird venue, or, every once in a while, because the band flops. Never has the audience played such a part in diminishing a band’s potential effect. Regardless of the audience, the Kings were still reigning sovereign over my head, pumping out obscure anthems like “Razz”, “Four Kicks” and “Spiral Staircase.” After 45 minutes at the most, lead singer Caleb, who had been throwing guitar picks into the crowd like a kid feeding pigeons, spiked the microphone stand to the ground and the band exited. Encores have become adjacent to any performance. They are practically presumed. The Kings of Leon, who went double platinum in the U.K., could not have been impressed with the showing Tuesday night, as the band sells out venues all over the world. Still, perhaps out of common courtesy, the band came back on stage and provided a perhaps undeserved encore for the fans who barely coaxed them into it. Just as Caleb was opening his mouth to grace us with at least one more tune, the fire alarm went off and the band, along with everyone else, cleared the building as fire trucks roared to the scene. An apt ending to a mediocre night. The party was not necessarily over though, because earlier, in an attempt to get a pre-show interview with the band, myself and a fellow Cynic writer (who was extremely effective) managed to talk with their manager, who told us that the band always gets a couple of drinks at the bar after a show. Naturally, we waited and they came. We did not exactly get the interview we were looking for, but we did get to take them to Church Street, buy them some beers, and give them a little taste of Burlington. My Companion Soledad and myself, along with some mutual friends, sat at a table with Caleb Followill outside on Church Street while other Followill band-mates mingled about sparsely. We conversed about stupid things, things we would certainly not remember in the morning, things we didn’t remember five minutes after they were said. Caleb, who is one of the band’s songwriters, told us with a smile that their song “Milk” was written about a girl who only ate her cereal with water. He had a dry sense of humor and could have been pulling a fast one on us, but we wouldn’t have known-or cared for that matter. There was no hesitation in jabbing each other with sarcastic jokes about what it means to be a rock star-whether it is a lifestyle or a state of mind or, in conclusion, a whole lot of good, fun stuff. These guys were class acts; nonchalant for the most part, but quixotic at the same time. From hippies to heaven, I’m pretty sure we talked about it all. Maybe, if the Longtrails had not been flowing so freely, there would be a more specific picture to paint. But how fun would that be? At the end of the night, we had attended a semi-disappointing show, been threatened by bouncers on various occasions, and still had no official interview with the Kings of Leon. We were content.