Kings of Leon takes Garden by storm

Jan. 29 was truly a night for fans. Kings of Leon played to a packed Madison Square Garden that teemed and swayed with the pulsating energy of their sound. It was the band’s first show at the Garden and an early foray into arena rock. They took to it with gusto and swagger, delivering what will probably go down as one of the most memorable of the band’s career.

Midway through the band’s set, Caleb Followill, frontman and rhythm guitarist, ambled humbly up to the microphone, eyes pinned to the front of the stage, clutching an acoustic guitar. He thanked the rambunctious, massive gathering for what was probably the fourth time that evening for their continued support, noting that many had come from far-flung locations.

Kings of Leon owes much of its success to its large European fan-base. Only within the last three years has the band begun to gain rightfully deserved stardom in the United States. And yet Caleb remained humble and said he had “dreamed of playing here all (his) life” before launching into the anthemic “Fans,” “for the last true fan-base” in the industry.

The crowd reciprocated with hip-shaking, beer bottles aloft with plumes of pungent marijuana rising to the Garden’s rafters.

On the JumboTron above the stage, Caleb and the other brothers/cousins Followill appeared nervous at times. Early in the set, Matthew Followill, lead guitarist and backing vocalist, shuffled off to the side of the stage – riffing the entire time – to take sips through a straw from a red solo cup, perched atop his amplifier’s flight case. Maybe the Kings needed some liquid (or chemical) courage to confront the thousands practically circling the stage, but there was no hesitation – not even the slightest hint of nervousness – in the tenacity of their delivery.

In all probability, the members of Kings of Leon have been preparing for a show of this magnitude all their lives. The band’s most recent release, “Only By The Night,” sounds like it was written to blow the rafters off of arenas. Songs like “Closer,” “Crawl” and “Revelry” did just that. Writing and performing songs like this walks a fine line between poignant rock and tacky arena balladry, but the Kings pull it off – and with finesse. It’s their humility and sincerity that sells it.

Never was this more apparent than right before the Kings launched into the alternative-rock radio hit, “Sex On Fire.” Caleb asked the crowd for assistance before even announcing the song’s title. When bassist and backing vocalist Jared Followill played the song’s slightly distorted prelude, the crowd exploded. Bodies were swaying, couples were locking lips and the sea of fans undulated with unbridled sexual energy.

And yes, there is something undeniably sexy about thousands of people singing at the top of their voices, “You, your sex is on fire.” Passionate make-out sessions continued during the tasteful ballad, “Use Somebody.”

With the price of concert tickets rising almost exponentially, it’s important to feel like you get your money’s worth at a concert. Truly, it was an evening for the fans, may of whom could be seen exiting the Garden in the afterglow. Certainly, Kings of Leon felt the same way, living by its mantra, “You know those rainy days ain’t so bad when you’re the king.”

Joseph Hannan can be reached at hannan2@tcnj.edu.