|Guitarist Caleb Followill led the Kings of Leon at the Orpheum Theatre on Wednesday. (John Bohn/Globe Staff)|
Hype can be so misleading in rock 'n' roll. Look what it did to Kings of Leon.
In 2003, the Followills - a band of brothers and their cousin - revved up out of Tennessee with "Youth & Young Manhood," a debut that quickly earned them the nickname "the Southern Strokes." That impression stuck, even though nothing that followed could really be called Southern rock.
The Followills were pretty - all long hair, T-shirts, and tight jeans - and a fashion spread in Rolling Stone soon materialized. Plus, they had a good back story about how, when they were young, the future rockers traveled the country to Pentecostal revivals with their evangelist father.
It all distracted from the fact that Kings of Leon are an incredibly proficient and electrifying band. And these days they sound more in synch, as the first of a two-night stand at the Orpheum proved Wednesday night.
Kings of Leon play arena rock without all its trappings, which allows for a peculiar tension between what they're doing onstage and the audience's fervent enthusiasm. The Followills are not flashy showmen in the traditional sense - no Mick Jagger preening or Jimi Hendrix antics. At the Orpheum, Matthew Followill playing his electric guitar with his teeth was about as wild as it got. A few guitar picks and water bottles were tossed into the crowd, too.
Pretty tame stuff, but Kings of Leon don't need gimmicks. They're intense in their own right, seemingly wrapped up more in their playing than what's going on in front of them. Their brand of lean, muscular indie rock has grown darker and heavier, especially on the group's new album, "Only by the Night."
While "Aha Shake Heartbreak," the band's 2004 sophomore album, was more pop-oriented, and last year's "Because of the Times" explored experimental directions, "Only by the Night" lurks in the shadows. It's as murky as Jared Followill's deep, rumbling bass lines that snaked through the show.
The new songs, in particular, gave guitarist and lead singer Caleb Followill a chance to stretch out vocally, soaring on some songs and craggy on others. And he was the most gracious frontman I've seen in a long time: "This is one of my favorite shows of the whole tour right here," he said just a few songs into the night.
There were singalongs ("Sex on Fire," "Molly's Chambers") that often overpowered what you heard from the stage. Even the quieter moments ("Cold Desert," "Be Somebody") grew into epic outlets for the guys to rock out hard.
Openers We Are Scientists had all the right ingredients - big hooks, boundless energy, good humor, and a silver fox of a frontman - but their songs never really caught fire. They were enjoyable, but almost in a mechanical fashion. Maybe these scientists need less brains and more brawn.
James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.