Saturday night in Atlantic City, as Kings of Leon kicked off their 31-date summer tour, singer-guitarist Caleb Followill predicted the future.
“You don’t know these songs,” he said after the quartet debuted a new track at the 2,500-capacity Event Center at the Borgata Hotel, just beyond the boozy bustle, neon-glow, and ccchhhhaaaachhhhhiiinngggg sounds of the gambling floor. “But one day you will.”
The first new song, tentatively called “Immortals,” is yet another super anthem from SPIN’s 2009 Artist of the Year. “Don’t be a stranger / Put one foot in front of the other,” Caleb wailed over pulsing bass and some atmospheric riffs on the catchy toe-tapper, a second cousin to the material from the band’s blockbuster 2008 release, Only by the Night.
“Mary,” another newbie, explored the other side of the group’s new material: the “fun, beach-y” vibe. Here, KOL opted for simple, pastoral, good times rock’n’roll with a groove. The song nodded at the Band and My Morning Jacket, with Caleb stretching his vocals into a piercing, soulful wail not unlike that of Jim James.
Much of the set was a workman-like run through their hits, with a focus on Only by the Night. “Sex on Fire” was rapturously received by perhaps the most well-dressed crowd to ever fill a rock show — snazzy button-ups, slacks, and fancy shoes for the guys, and skin-tight, provocative dresses for the girls, including socialite Tinsley Mortimer. The exception: a dressed-down Ed Westwick (Gossip Girl), standing in jeans, a tattered sun hat, and white undershirt with a couple of young ladies near the VIP area.
Another Only by the Night jam, the acoustic-driven “Notion,” inspired the first lighters-and-cell-phones sway, while oldies like “Taper Jean Girl” and “The Bucket,” both off 2004’s Aha Shake Heartbreak, roused the otherwise tame but reverent crowd.
To close out their first set, KOL invited up the show’s opener, Athens, GA, power trio the Whigs, who joined on a yet another new track, a jammy, folk ditty which Caleb called “a song about being from the south.”
“I’ve got something here if you give me one more beer,” Caleb sang, with the Whigs’ Parker Gispert and KoL’s Mathew Followill behind him on acoustic guitars. “I’m going back down south now.”
It was a fitting cap to the band’s90-minute set of 21st century Southern rock.
Then came the encore version of “Use Somebody,” the quartet’s Grammy winner for Record of the Year and Best Rock Song. “Ohhh whoa whoa, ohhhh whoa whoa,” the crowd sang, like they’d been waiting for this moment all night. The performance captured Kings of Leon’s best traits: catchy, arena-filling guitars, crafty songwriting, rock muscle, and direct lyrics.
And this time, what happens in Atlantic City isn’t staying in Atlantic City — it’s touring the country all summer long.