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Culture / Entertainment

Kings of Leon Pay Tribute to George Strait, Bring Serious Sex Talk to Powerful Houston Rodeo Show

Caleb Followill Still Knows How to Set a Stadium on Fire

BY // 03.13.19

At the latest Houston Rodeo concert, it was only rock ‘n’ roll — and they liked it. Southern rock gods Kings of Leon took over NRG Stadium with their signature spin on garage and alt-rock, making a crowd of 61,436 forget it was only a Tuesday.

This wasn’t Kings of Leon’s first rodeo. Even if it was their first Rodeo Houston. Lead singer Caleb Followill shared they’d performed at a small rodeo in Alabama before.

“So it’s an honor to play here!” he shouted.

Throughout the course of the night, the Nashville-formed Kings of Leon truly made their way “Back Down South,” with songs of pickup trucks and even a little George Strait.

For longtime fans, it was amazing they made it here at all.

Kings of Leon was formed two decades ago, and that time’s seen the family affair —brothers Caleb Followill, Nathan Followill, Jared Followill and cousin Matthew Followill — go from touring church recitals with evangelist family members to finding their sound and their footing in Europe, hitting it big in the United States, and temporarily falling apart.

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Just because they’re southern doesn’t mean they’re gentlemen. The band was big into the bacchanal lifestyle. In 2011, their hard-partying ways had them parting ways after a concert here in Texas.

Caleb stumbled off stage at a Dallas show saying he’d vomit, drink a beer and come back. Only he didn’t. Come back, that is. It would not be surprising if he vomited and downed another beer.

Kings of Leon Resurrected

Following a few years’ hiatus, Kings of Leon came back with Walls. From the lyrics to the instrumentation, it didn’t seem so much like they were putting up walls as taking them down.

After a detox fit for a king, the band’s on tour again. And if their Houston Rodeo show was any indication, they haven’t lost an ounce of their edge.

They’ve earned 12 Grammy nods and five wins for a reason.

Kings of Leon opened up with “Crawl,” the screen scrolling with red, white and blue stars. The song’s not quite as patriotic as the visuals make it out to be — think “the reds and the whites and abused, the crucified USA” — but it set the tone for this concert.

And that tone meant a kind of subdued energy thrumming through the stadium.  The lead vocalist soulful, moody, belting out each and every lyric as opposed to simply singing them. He was like a tortured soul happy to spill his heart out, listen to you cheer, then do it all over again.

Caleb addressed the crowd only a couple of times, but he connected with it throughout.

He wore black skinny jeans and boots and a white T-shirt finished off with a beige vest. The rest of the band had stuck to a similar dress code except for the bassist Jared, who saw fit to sport a coral blazer over a graphic tee.

Nathan Followill was wearing, but it was easy to see what he was eating. The drummer chewed bubble gum the entire show.

He blew enormous bubbles that would pop against his face, but somehow the camera always seemed to cut away right after. One thing’s for sure — even if he had to pick gum off his face, it didn’t get in the way of his tempo.

Kings of Leon Houston Rodeo
Kings of Leon went through a crisp, 15-song set list at Houston Rodeo. (Photo courtesy Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo)

“Find Me” was up next, with spotlights scattered and swirling across the stadium, fitting the lyrics, and then the stage turned a bright neon-green for “Radioactive.”

The emphasis wasn’t on theatrics or showmanship. It was about the music, which has evolved and shifted over two decades, from studios in Nashville to studios in Los Angeles, and it was about the thoughtful, occasionally wrenching lyrics.

And, yes, of course, the obvious lyrics like “your sex is on fire.” But the guy’s married to a Victoria’s Secret Angel, so what do you really expect?

Still, it was quite some time before Kings of Leon got to “Sex on Fire.”

For “On Call,” with his promise to be there, fans would shout “Be there!” at the top of their lungs.

A Slow Build

The Houston crowd was enjoying the show, but for the first half, you’d mainly find the diehard fans up and dancing.

Most of the crowd was bobbing heads and swaying shoulders. You could tell they truly liked the music, but didn’t know all the words by heart.

That didn’t stop them from screaming or hollering at the start of every song. Even if the lyrics were a mystery, the opening chords weren’t.

The vibe kept going from “Revelry” to “Supersoaker,” with the audience buzzing with energy. “It’s so good to be here!” Caleb shouted.

When it was time for “Closer,” the phones really started coming out for snapchat, Instagram, all of it. “She took my heart, I think she took my soul,” Caleb sang out.

But it was nothing compared to what happened next. The stage went black and as soon as a few notes were played, the crowd erupted in screams. This time, people got up to dance en masse, because this was music literally everyone knew.

“Lay where you’re laying, don’t make a sound. I know they’re watching, watching,” the arena cried out to “Sex on Fire.”

“Everybody sing!” Caleb shouted, as if everyone wasn’t already.

In a few songs, Kings of Leon slipped down to the South with “Pickup Truck.” Classic country theme, just with a rock ‘n’ roll delivery. It’s a territorial tale, the lead singer coming to blows with his romantic rival, bloody teeth included.

That’s not to say it isn’t clever. “But when he pulled in and revved it up, I said you call that a pickup truck?”

“You guys doin’ alright?” Caleb shouted. “We have a few more songs for you tonight. This is a real treat. Thank you for having us.” OK, fine. Maybe they are Southern gentlemen.

Caleb sang about pretty girls, fights, beer, stars and rivals in “Back Down South.” But just when people were about to take him up on his offer “If you wanna go, I’m going back south now. Come on, take my hand, I’m going back down south now,” something incredible happened.

The music veered off course right before the chorus, and Caleb smiled. “Amarillo by mornin’,” he sang. The crowd went wild, singing through the next two lines with him before he got back to back down south.

“When that sun is high in that Texas sky” got the loudest shouts yet.

Kings of Leon could have cut it off then and there on a high note. But if they had, somebody was going to have to answer for why “Use Somebody” never got its time in the spotlight. It was up next, with the crowd jumping out of their seats in response to “Come on, everybody!” To some people, that meant headbang. To others, fist pump.

They brought it back to the Lone Star State for their very final song, “Waste a Moment.” The song kicks off with “All the way from Waco to WE-HO with a rabbit on her chain,” the story of a waitress and her Texan paramour on a road trip to Los Angeles.

Houston Rodeo fans made the time, alright, but they didn’t waste a moment.

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