it out: Caleb Followill of Kings of Leon.
By John Brodeur
Hall, Oct. 5
When Tennessee’s Kings of Leon were signed to RCA in 2003,
the band had been together for all of a month, and had never
played a show. This is worth mentioning because, in 2005,
they are one of the best bands playing rock & roll. They
were good then; they’re great now.
A lesser band could have coasted by on backstory alone: The
three Followill brothers (their cousin Matthew plays guitar)
were raised in a sheltered environment; their father, a preacher,
home-schooled the lads between sermons. The band’s first two
releases—2003’s Holy Roller Novocaine EP and Youth
& Young Manhood LP—were derivative-but-striking blasts
of hipster- magnet guitar rock, with a generous swamp-boogie
swagger. Critics fell all over themselves praising the band,
European success came calling, and the band toured the world.
Those 18 months of touring that followed the release of Youth
& Young Manhood had an obvious effect on the band:
Their second full-length, Aha Shake Heartbreak, found
the much-improved unit reveling in the partying, drugs and
groupie love that they had only read about until two years
prior. It’s a decadent, confident record, featuring some of
this year’s weirdest rock moments, and marble-mouthed vocals
that make Kurt Cobain’s work on Nevermind sound like
frickin’ Shakespeare. Yet despite the accolades, despite having
a single (“The Bucket”) creep into rotation on modern-rock
radio, and despite having perfect haircuts and pinup-caliber
good looks, Kings of Leon haven’t invaded the collective unconscious
here in the States.
Maybe that last part’s just a little untrue. Last Wednesday,
the four Followills, looking like they’d walked in straight
off a video shoot, opened their 70-minute set with “Molly’s
Chambers”—the one from the Volkswagen commercial. What an
ace move. Not that any of the 250 or so in attendance needed
a reminder of what brought them there—the audience was much
more animated here than those at a number of more “danceable”
shows in recent months—but it was wise of them to level expectations
from the get-go.
The set was professional, perfectly sequenced, and designed
for engagement. The sweltering boom-bap boogie of “Pistol
of Fire” and “Happy Alone” was followed by the Aha Shake
standout “Razz,” whose burbling disco bass and sharp guitar
licks sounded like the Kings’ approximation of postpunk. “The
Bucket,” which hilariously rips off its melody from Tori Amos’
“Silent All These Years,” was an expected crowd-pleaser. And
“Soft,” a rollicking, um, ode to whiskey dick, opened
with an ass-backward samba groove, then flourished into an
all-out steamroller, with the two guitarists trading eighth-note
jags in an invigorating rush of sound.
They pulled back for “Milk” (“she wanted your bah-tay”), then
amped it up again for the sideways stomp of “Four Kicks,”
before closing with a quartet of first-album tracks, including
the near-perfect “California Waiting.” In fact, that about
describes the show on the whole. Kings of Leon bring precision
to an idiom (garage rock) that is characterized by recklessness
and deshevelry, and boy is it welcome. The playing and sound
were clear as day (except for the vocals, of course), due
in part to the three string players’ awkward-but-precise picking
style, a hand posture that looks arthritic in its contortion.
Plus, there was little in the way of mindless rock-guy banter;
the guitarists obsessively tuned after each song, proving
that, despite their perfect haircuts and pinup-caliber good
looks, they care more about sound than style.
Hall, Oct. 4
Robert Fripp is a man of striking contrasts. Since the dawning
of King Crimson in 1969, he’s played guitar sitting down,
a fact made more noticeable by dint of this small, still man
issuing some of the loudest guitar sounds ever emitted indoors.
He has disbanded and re-formed Crimson several times over
the ensuing decades, overlaying each new coming and going
with finely wrought theoretical musings on art, commerce and
life. He speaks with the careful precision of a mathematician,
but as an improvising musician he exhibits a range of emotional
In one of the most surprising bookings of the year, Fripp
came to Troy’s Revolution Hall last week. This was one of
his solo “Soundscapes” performances, an evening of improvised
music utilizing his guitar and a battery of synthesizing interfaces.
While lacking a title as evocative as either No Pussyfooting
or Evening Star, a pair of albums he made with
Brian Eno, it’s in the same sonic realm. He built up textures
as successive guitar notes were held and amended with other
prerecorded sounds he’d trigger with his instrument, foot
pedals or hand-worked dials and faders.
Besides George Jones, a man who loves to get back to his hotel
room to watch television, it’s hard to name any other artist
who likes to start early, but that’s exactly what Fripp did,
taking the stage before the clock struck eight, the advertised
and otherwise universally ignored showtime. He played two
long improvisations, between which he talked about his work
and fielded questions from the audience of about 150. Gentleman
that he is, he handled the ludicrous first question (“What’s
Brian Eno like?”—not even “What’s Brian Eno like to work
with?”) with grace and humor.
Fripp’s playing was accompanied by a slide show that was there
only to give people’s eyes something to light on. Photos from
his life, they were projected behind him, and he was clearly
not playing to their content or rhythm, ignoring them completely.
If he’s intent on keeping this visual component, it’d be much
more successful if it were also being played by someone, so
that it was interactive in the moment and not just a preset
It must be noted that the evening was all the more unique
for how the venue was turned into a lecture hall. It was not
a big night for beer sales; rows of chairs filled the floor,
the audience (almost exclusively male, and decidedly gray
or bald) in rapt attention for the full 90 minutes.
Rob Thomas, Antigone Rising
Theater, Oct. 5
This show marked Antigone Rising’s first return to Albany
in a while; between 2000 and 2003 these New York girls (who
are former legal clients of mine) were basically an adopted
local band, playing and recording here constantly.
But they got called up to the bigs, and for the last couple
of years have been getting groomed for stardom. Signed to
mega-hitmakers Lava Records, AR have been working on the debut
disc for more than two years, and a few months ago released
a live unplugged Starbucks-only recording (From the Ground
Up) to get the buzz going. Appearances on Good Morning
America and Emeril(!), and constant mentions in
music news outlets followed, showing that there’s some heavy
industry juice positioning AR for greater things.
Ain’t it nice when the music business gets it right for a
Even better, the band haven’t lost their punch. The edges
are softened a little, the charge is a little more focused,
the gonzo craziness is toned down, the image is approaching
glamourpuss-y, but the girls still rock that thing. Singer
Cassidy remains a force of nature, blonde hair flying, voice
yeowling and scatting, bringing a song to an emotional head
with a pure sustained high note, and just leaving it all,
honestly and messily, on stage. Drummer Dena Tauriello is
brilliant, forceful and thoughtful, with a right foot to die
for. The Henderson sisters bookend the stage with shimmering,
lockstep guitars and those incredibly filial background vocals;
new bassist Jen Zielenbach is all-pro, with the cutest damn
stage moves, sort of a cool muted feminized version of Verdine.
The short (35-minute) set, focusing on the Starbucks record,
was wildly received by the faithful. Wait’ll next year when
the real record comes out, the gloves come off, and Antigone
Rising are the headliner. It’s all in the cards, and they’re
I admit to being baffled by Rob Thomas. The Palace was pretty
much sold out, at $50 bucks per person, for this guy. Formerly
with the hugely popular (I guess) Matchbox 20, he helped put
Carlos Santana rightfully back in the spotlight with his song
(and his singing) on Santana’s album Supernatural,
and now he’s got a solo album selling like crazy and a tour
that’s going gangbusters. He writes solid songs that echo
hit songwriters of the past, without bringing a whole lot
new to the table. He’s a pleasant singer with an easy boy-next-door
charm. Fronting a band of session players paid to look interested,
and with a bland Vegas-y stage set, Thomas earnestly delivered
a no-bullshit career retrospective. The huge crowd hung on
his every word, standing and screaming for most of the show.
And you can’t argue with that.