They Will Rock You: Kings of Leon at Labor Day fest
Kings of Leon are back where they belong, playing to festival crowds
Who: Kings of Leon
Where: Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience, Snowmass Town Park
When: Friday, Sept. 3, 8 p.m.
How much: $166.95 and up
More info: Proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test required for entry; details at jazzaspensnowmass.org
This summer, many folks emerging into the post-vaccine social landscape of the pandemic had to overcome some jitters for going back to “normal” and the first time they, say, dined in a restaurant or went to a movie theater.
Rock stars had to do the same, only their normal is playing for crowds of tens of thousands of people at festivals and arenas.
Kings of Leon, for instance, hit the road across North America in early August for their first tour since the pandemic began. It brings them to the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience on Friday night.
“There are levels that you have to climb up to get back to,” bassist Jared Followill said in a phone interview from home near Nashville before the tour launch. “Honestly, the first thing was wrapping your head around it mentally and saying, ‘OK, like, we’re going to do this.’ This has obviously been a little bit of a trying time mentally for everybody. … Saying, ‘We’re going to go on tour’ is a big step.”
Their 24-city tour launched in Florida in early August and marks their return to the stage after a long break during the coronavirus pandemic’s shutdown of the live music industry.
For a band that plays arenas and big festivals as one of the last popular torchbearers for straight-ahead guitar rock, there is no way to do it small. They didn’t play shows for nearly 18 months after the onset of the pandemic, other than a late spring set at the NFL Draft in Cleveland. They rescheduled major shows like the 2020 Labor Day Experience. And they delayed for an entire year the release of their eighth album, “When You See Yourself.”
On ice for this long stretch, this family band (brothers Caleb, Jared and Nathan and their cousin Matthew) each went and did their own thing. Jacob, the youngest member of the band at 34, focused on an unexpected passion.
“I moved to a golf course and played a lot of golf,” he said. “I just tried to stay as normal as I could while being smart and not being reckless.”
The NFL Draft gig was a low-stakes, humbling return to the stage (“Literally none of them were there for us, but there was an audience there,” Followill put it bluntly). This summer’s tour and major performances like Friday’s in Snowmass are the true proving ground for the band and its new songs.
In practical terms, the band made “When You See Yourself” in 2019 and planned a spring 2020 release followed by a world tour, beginning the launch with a live cut of the new track “Going Nowhere” in March 2020. Then, at the moment they thought they’d release the record and start playing its songs live, they went home and, yes, went nowhere.
When they got back to work for the summer 2021 tour, the band had to start pretty much from scratch, learning how to play the notes of the new songs before even thinking about the other on-stage consideration and getting back in the groove of arena-ready showmanship.
“You learn all the songs,” Followill said, “and then you’ve got to get confident with them to where you can actually start thinking about the audience and start thinking about the way you look when you play them and trying to have good energy and be authentic when you’re playing them and not just look like you’re playing the parts
It’s a strange experience, longer than any hiatus the band has taken over its chart-topping run, but Followill doesn’t think the long break and the disruptions of the pandemic will have a permanent effect on Kings creatively.
“I feel like everybody still just kind of waking up from something and you’re just trying to get your bearings a little bit,” he said. “Slowly but surely, everything will get back completely normal.”
Followill and his brothers are focused on keeping the band creatively alive and vital at this point, after more than 20 years as Kings of Leon.
Having burst on the scene as the only Southern boys in the testosterone-soaked garage rock revival of the early 2000s, they very publicly reveled in the boozing and brawling of rock’n’roll excess, survived, and found themselves as Grammy-winning chart-topping pop stars by the late aughts with inescapable and immortal tracks like “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody,” now the Followills want the staying power to remain on top — of the charts and of festival bills — for the long haul.
“I’m coming to terms with a lot of things just like as I get older,” Followill said. “And just fading away sounds pretty horrible to me.”
They look at still-vital bands from the alternative rock era preceding them as models, he said, admiring the live shows and tours that Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters put together, and the envelope-pushing and still-relevant studio work of Radiohead.
“Basically, anybody who’s been in a band for over 20 years, and they’re still doing it, we have a lot of admiration for them and look up to them,” he said.
There are not a lot of firsts left for a band like Kings of Leon, who’ve seemingly done it all and grasped the brass ring of rock stardom. But the thrill is still there: “You know, I love the thought of being able to still play Madison Square Garden or still be relevant in magazines or win awards that we’ve already won before.”
The new album made history immediately upon release, as the band became the fist to make an album available as an NFT, possibly opening up a new avenue for recording artists — following the success of visual artists — to support themselves. “When You See Yourself” is otherwise a meat-and-potatoes rock album made by a band of pros who’ve mastered the format. With U2-sized ambitions, these songs are made for live performance. “The Bandit,” for instance, opens with a galloping guitar jangle, met soon by slow-build drums and Caleb Followill’s signature vocals until the anthemic “Must catch the bandit” chorus hits.
“It is fresh and new and has very, like honest energy,” Jared said. “It can be a little bit tough to get some of that energy for songs, you’ve played 1,000 times.”
The Followills have been chomping at the bit to bring these songs on the road — including the streaming and radio hits “The Bandit,” “Time in Disguise” and “Echoing” — and are eager to see how they evolve in live performance, with audiences on board and singing along (or not) to the new ones mixed in with the hits.
“If we go out there, and the audience doesn’t necessarily respond to them and everybody goes and gets a beer when we start playing,” he said with a laugh, “You know, we probably will take it off the setlist before the second show.”
FRIDAY, SEPT. 3
5:10 p.m.: Pandas & People (JAS Music Lounge)
6: Gary Clark Jr.
7:30: Pandas & People (JAS Music Lounge)
8: Kings of Leon
After: Silent Disco Party
SATURDAY, SEPT. 4
3 p.m.: Larkin Poe
4:20: Augustus (JAS Music Lounge)
5: Sheryl Crow
7:10: Augustus (JAS Music Lounge)
7:30: Eric Church
After: Silent Disco Party
SUNDAY, SEPT. 5
3 p.m.: Yola
4:10: The Sweet Lillies (JAS Music Lounge)
5: Maren Morris
6:40: The Sweet Lillies (JAS Music Lounge)
7:30: Jimmy Buffett
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