Back in the days of monkey bars, swings, four square, tether ball and chasing girls on the playground, I was once imparted these wise words from a fellow disheveled-haired, dirty-faced fifth grader: “Always tell the pretty ones that they’re smart, and always tell the smart ones they’re pretty.” That was, apparently, the golden rule for getting the girl.
But the conundrum always arose: What do you do tell the smart ones who are pretty?
Fast forward to last Tuesday as Kings of Leon — the proverbial smart and sometimes pretty girl of southern rock — the took stage in front of a soggy Comfort Dental Amphitheatre crowd, which had withstood several hours of rain as they grooved to show openers the Features and Built to Spill just before KOL arrived.
The Tennessee-based headliners, composed of the three brothers Folllowill (Caleb on lead vocals/guitar, Jared on bass and Nathan on drums), and their cousin Mathew Followill (lead guitar), have been putting an original spin on country-ish rock with a lo-fi garage rock sound, sharp lyrics and Caleb’s bareknuckled vocals for nearly 10 years now.
The pretty-girl side of KOL can be heard on songs from their latest album. Tracks such as “Only by the Night” include a more anthemic alt-rock sound, and it’s this change that has garnered them a larger audience — witness the stadium-ready “Use Somebody,” a song routinely heard on the iPods of teenage girls.
KOL’s Tuesday night set was a 90- minute ride through songs that included whiskey-soaked, energetic numbers like “Taper Jean Girl,” songs with a little more mascara and lipstick like “Notion” and even an aural peek at some new songs.
Onstage, the aesthetic could have been best described as redneck-chic: The trademark “K.O.L.” made of white duct tape on Nathan’s bass drum. The backdrop of several hundred hodge-podged headlights and lamps, which looked like something that emerged from a junk yard and a welding kit. The group’s no-frills dress, which created a set that complemented the lo-fi, swampy sound KOL fans originally fell in love with.
A standout song from the show was the unreleased, slow-tempo country sound of “Southbound.” The song offered a nice change-up and showed the band’s versatility, with Caleb on acoustic guitar and a backdrop of red lights so moody you felt like you were on a highway, following taillights, and headed toward the Deep South.
Halfway through the set, Caleb seemed to sense that the audience was growing impatient while waiting for their radio hits (or even wanting him to doll-up a little). “We’ll give you all what you want now, so sing along” Caleb commanded. The band then launched into one of the few blemishes on their discography, “Sex on Fire,” a song that has about as much authenticity as “You Are Everybody” by the fictitious band “Drive Shaft” “Lost.”
Which brings us back to the question, “What do you tell the girl who is smart and pretty?” In this case, I guess you just appreciate the fact that she’s smart enough to be interesting, but still pretty in her lesser moments.
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Troy Markgraf is a Denver-based writer and regular contributor to Reverb.
Brian Carney is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.