GULF SHORES, ALABAMA — All the Kings of Leon ever wanted was to be loved at home.
In 2005, soon after release of their second album, Aha Shake Heartbreak, they lamented that all folks in the U.S. seemed to care about was their mustaches … and though KOL finally broke through in the states with 2008’s Only By The Night, they’ve seemingly never lost that desire for acceptance.
And that was abundantly clear during their Friday-night headlining slot at the Hangout Fest, which was as heavy on the hits as it was the sentiment. Down in Alabama, before tens of thousands of screaming, sunburnt fans, they truly felt the love.
“I feel like we’re surrounded by our own people here,” frontman Caleb Followill told the crowd, “So I’m just gonna be myself tonight.”
So for nearly 100 minutes, the Kings basked in it all. They opened with “Radioactive,” from 2010’s Come Around Sundown, tore through fuzzy versions of tracks like “Taper Jean Girl,” “My Party” and “The Bucket,” slowed it down for the couples in the crowd on “On Call,” “Cornerstone” and “Renegades,” and worked the new song — “It Don’t Matter” — in midway through. Shoot, at one point, Caleb even smiled.
It was essentially a victory lap, a big-time band flexing its muscles and even swaggering a bit … Matthew Followill pulled countless fleet-fingered solos out of his guitar, drummer Nathan Followill pounded his kit with equal parts power and finesse, and bassist Jared Followill kept the backbeat lean and mean. Their biggest tunes — “Sex on Fire,” “Use Somebody” — seemed to course with new vigor, and the last tune of the night, the old favorite “Black Thumbnail,” burned like it hasn’t in years. And yes, it sent the folks home happy.
It hasn’t been an easy run at the top for the Kings (recall Caleb’s onstage meltdown in 2011 ), but they’ve made it through, and, as they prepare to release their new album (it’s reportedly due in September,) they appear to be in fine form, both as a band and individuals, What’s more, if their Hangout set was any indication, they may have finally become comfortable with their status as one of the biggest bands in rock — both abroad and at home. And now, they seem ready to move on to even bigger things … if that’s even possible.