"We're going to have some fun with you tonight," Caleb Followill told the ecstatic crowd at Kings of Leon's intimate House of Blues gig on Wednesday in Chicago. "We've been looking forward to this concert for a long time."
Judging by the rapturous reception thrown back at the band all evening, it's safe to say those on hand echoed the singer's sentiment. And with good reason: the one-off Chicago gig was a rare chance to see the Followill boys in a small-club setting. Even better, for a band that has endured its share of obstacles in the past few years – most notably the rocky road that followed Caleb's now-infamous 2011 onstage meltdown in Dallas – Kings of Leon looked renewed and reenergized.
Perhaps because they now feel like "the fucking underdog," as Jared Followill recently told Rolling Stone, Wednesday evening offered a prime opportunity to prove themselves still relevant in mainstream music. In this instance, it came by way of a set heavy on new material from their recently released LP, Mechanical Bull.
The newer fare didn't disappoint: "Family Tree," with its down-home, harmony-drenched vibe, played well as a set opener. "Rock City," making its live debut, could've easily been mistaken for a Street Survivors b-side, and dripped with Matthew's swampy Southern guitar lick and Jared's thick-as-tar bass groove. Lead single "Supersoaker" and "Don't Matter" recalled the band's punchier Because of the Times material.
The highlight among the Mechanical Bull cuts was the winsome ballad "Beautiful War." Caleb wrote the tune while piecing together 2008’s Only by the Night, but ultimately waited to present it to the band until the Mechanical Bull sessions. It seems to have been a wise decision: the song’s lyrics – a sermon-like ode to that sweet love worth fighting for – befits the singer’s new role as a father, as he crooned, "When I hold the warmth of your body/There is nobody that I'd rather hold."
The Kings also dished out a heavy helping of their live staples, including powerful versions of "Use Somebody," "Sex on Fire" and "The Bucket." Longtime fans were treated to some of the band's older material, most notably "Four Kicks" and "Taper Jean Girl," both off 2004’s Aha Shake Heartbreak, with the latter eliciting the night's loudest reception as Nathan's bass-drum stomping intro sent the crowd into hysterics.
"This is one of my favorite shows in a long time," Caleb Followill declared near the show's end, flashing a smile at his bandmates.
"Taper Jean Girl"
"Back Down South"
"Sex on Fire"