Billed alongside pop-punk shape shifters Fall Out Boy and rap megastar Kendrick Lamar, booking Kings of Leon to close Sunday night at Reading feels not so much ‘safe’ as ‘haven’t we been through this already?’
Because time is a closed loop and all that, last time Kings of Leon headlined in 2009, Fall Out Boy played lower down the bill in their last UK performance before hiatus. While that was a fond farewell - complete with the biggest hits, a Journey cover and a chance to say goodbye - Kings of Leon grumbled at the crowd’s levels of enthusiasm before Caleb smashed up his guitar (a one of a kind relic, smart move) and flounced off.
Where their fellow 2018 headliners have constantly reinvented and evolved, the best moments of Kings of Leon’s set tonight could all have been drawn from their 2007 outing.
An opening suite from ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’ is a sad reminder of just how exciting the Kings were when they first burst out of Tennessee, ‘Taper Jean Girl’ getting the audience grooving along with Jared’s strutting bass. They wisely draw extensively from ‘Because of the Times’ - the threat and sense of adventure present in ‘My Party’, ‘McFearless’ and especially ‘Charmer’ something they’ve failed to replicate since ‘Sex on Fire’ made them stadium stars. ‘Fans’ shows they used to be able to do festival-uniting anthems without the risk of sending people to sleep, and ‘On Call’ still has one of the best guitar solos going.
Never ones to offer too much going forward, the quartet hunch over their instruments and dish out licks in workmanlike fashion. Nathan sports a doo rag on his head, which is only acceptable if you’re Steve van Zandt. You aren’t Steve van Zandt, Nathan.
The intensity drops once the Followills start dipping into their later releases, and never picks up again. ‘Crawl’ and ‘Find Me’ are rare examples that the old fire must still be burning somewhere deep down, but ‘Notion’ and ‘Over’ demonstrate it’s suffocating under layers of U2-aping bluster. ‘The Bucket’ is the last dose of energy before a trio of the band’s more recent 'hits' are dutifully handed out to anyone who still cares at this point.
From their first three records, we know Kings of Leon are capable of something special, but they need a total reboot to revive that spirit. On tonight’s evidence, they don’t seem like the kind of group to tear up the rulebook and start over.