Over the course of two hours and more than two dozen songs Friday night at Dos Equis Pavilion, the last dregs of a surprisingly mild summer ebbing away, it was possible to be struck anew by the work — impressionistic lyrics set against enthralling rock melodies, surging guitars and exploding choruses — as well as the sheer improbability of this band’s enduring success. (American rock music has not had the strongest run in the last decade or so.)
“She’ll loan you her toothbrush/She’ll bartend your party/Kill me, kill me,” goes a line in “Milk,” from 2004’s Aha Shake Heartbreak. On paper, it baffles, but on Friday night, hearing roughly 20,000 people belt “Milk” back to the band, the words sounded like scripture.
That conflation of the strange and sacred tracks with the Followills’ — brothers Caleb, Jared and Nathan, and cousin Matthew — much-ballyhooed backstory about growing up and attending their father’s Pentecostal tent revivals, but in a way that feels earned and internalized, rather than an easy, sensational marketing hook, as it was in the band’s early going.
The synthesis of secular and spiritual extends beyond biography. When You See Yourself, Kings of Leon’s eighth studio album and the impetus for its first stop in Dallas in four years, is rich with the sort of soulful, Southern-fried impulses that first turned heads, but stirred into the kind of expansive, arena-friendly songs that have become second nature to these multi-platinum, Grammy-laden sons of Nashville.
"That conflation of the strange and sacred tracks with the Followills’ much-ballyhooed backstory about growing up and attending their father’s Pentecostal tent revivals."
As Caleb, who handled lead vocal and guitar duties Friday, noted, the Kings were a “man down” at Dos Equis: Matthew was absent, given the recent birth of his daughter. The remaining Followills were backed by familiar faces: Liam O’Neil on keyboards with Tim Deaux and Dallas’ Chris Coleman pitching in on guitar.
The six musicians, situated on a stage flanked by sizable video screens, wreathed in haze and a restless riot of lights, made atmospheric, efficient work of the night’s setlist, rarely letting one song fade before tearing into another.
Audience and artist were in sync throughout, as the very lightly masked crowd greeted the deep cuts with as much enthusiasm as the well-worn hits.
Indeed, the evening’s front stretch, tumbling from the opener “When You See Yourself, Are You Far Away” into “The Bucket” into “Supersoaker” into “Taper Jean Girl” into “Revelry” into “Manhattan” and climaxed with “Sex on Fire,” was a bracing reminder of what got Kings of Leon where they are, and what they’re still capable of.
The visceral songs expanded and contracted as needed. The wiry guitar lines interlocked with the pulsing bass and pounding drums, as Caleb Followill’s pinched, passionate tenor rose above it all.
Kings of Leon was always more than the sum of its massive hits and proved as much again and again Friday night. Standing inside Dos Equis Pavilion as the music broke like a wave over the ecstatic audience, all the way back to the farthest corners of the lawn, was to understand — and more important, deeply feel — that bedrock truth.