Kings of Leon review – a stadium-rock masterclass

St James's Park, Newcastle
Putting past setbacks – fire, vomiting and pigeon poo – behind them, the Kings overcame a hellish sound system to produce magic and grandeur alike

Tennessee rockers Kings of Leon's 10-year rise to stadium status has been so problematic it's tempting to speculate that the Bible Belt boys have struck a dark pact with the Devil: he'll make them one of the world's biggest bands in return for jokes at their expense. Gigs have been rained off and venues almost burned down. The band have been struck by on-stage vomiting and, only weeks ago, subjected to health warnings as measles erupted in their audience.

In 2010, the Kings were even pooed off stage by pigeons, which is presumably why the pitch-long stage includes a giant canopy to protect them from further flying terrors. Alas, a hellish sound system renders Matthew Followill's lovely guitar line in opener Supersoaker completely inaudible and wreaks such havoc on the bass-fired On Call that the song collapses altogether.

However, after such unpromising beginnings, it's as if someone reminds Beelzebub of his obligations, and as the sound recovers, the band deliver a stadium-rock masterclass. Although neatly bearded frontman Caleb Followill plays guitar with his teeth, the musicians do or say very little, but look iconic on the giant screens in their black leather jackets and neckerchiefs. Meanwhile, the accompanying visuals are stunning – especially for anyone who has wondered what the frontman's head would look like refracted through a giant cactus. Once darkness descends and the crowd's phones light up a beautifully brooding Cold Desert, the atmosphere is magical.

It's similarly hard to fault a 26-song mega-setlist that roller coasters from devotional, lithe funky rock to tumbleweed-blowing grandeur, from 2003's southern rocking Molly's Chambers to the bulk of rejuvenating current album Mechanical Bull. Lasers dance over the arm-waving crowd as the stadium unites to roar along with Use Somebody, while so many people bellow "Your sex is on fire!" back at the band that it's a wonder a fire engine doesn't appear on the pitch.

At Isle of Wight festival on 15 June. Then touring.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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