Let’s get this out of the way first: Gary Clark Jr. is a rock star. The Texan guitarist opened for Kings of Leon Friday night at Madison Square Garden and gave one of those performances that makes you wonder, “Uh, why is this guy the opener and not the main event?” He seldom spoke, but his singing voice was consistently smooth and soulful, and his guitar solo on “When My Train Pulls In” was flawless, chills-inspiring, amazing.
But it wasnt a long set: After only five songs, it was time for the Kings. A white sheet was lowered down in front of the stage while the roadies prepared the set, and a fellow concert-goer and I joked, “wouldn’t it be kinda sexy if the band performed behind that white sheet?” In fact, the Kings actually did perform their first song, “Charmer” behind it. Frontman Caleb Followill’s shrieks were just as ear-splitting (in a good way) live as they are on the album track, and the chaotic nature of the song matched the flashing images of the boys’ shadows on the white sheet and the video of a screaming girl playing behind them.
The sheet lifted, and the band launched into Mechanical Bull’s “Rock City” and then Because of the Times’ “My Party.” Like Clark, Caleb wasn’t too into onstage banter– he barely spoke, and when he did, it was almost impossible to understand him. But he did wish the crowd a happy Valentine’s Day before launching into, “On Call,” and offered an aww-moment when he confessed that the band never thought they’d get to play somewhere like Madison Square Garden, and that people would actually show up. Six albums in, and they’re still surprised that people like (love!) them.
What felt like a good ol’ rock concert transitioned into full-out country at times, like when the Tennesee-raised band of brothers and cousins played “Back Down South,” a sentimental tune they wrote when they were feeling nostalgic for their southern roots. Some of the slower songs did drag, but maybe that’s just because they’re are so good at getting people on their feet that anything slower than, say, “True Love Way” feels disappointing– although when Caleb sang the downtempo “Milk” with the spotlight only on him, his pleading vocals delivered a powerful emotional moment.
They ended the concert with – what else? – “Sex on Fire,” which many of the Valentines Day couples in the audience took as their cue to make out and/or gaze lovingly into each others’ eyes. “Sex on Fire,” the love song of the century, ladies and gentlemen.
Kings of Leon’s Mechanical Bull Tour continues through the summer– click here for upcoming tour dates.