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“I’m having a lot more fun than I thought I would,” said Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followhill, sweat dripping down his newly trim hair into his stern blue eyes. “I thought you like, wouldn’t be here, or, wouldn’t know who were were, or…”
He said this to a crowd of at least 7,000 bellowing fans Tuesday at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, where the Kings played a two hours of pulsing pop rock, roughly half of which were off their most recent album, Only By the Night. Caleb and his band of tightly jeansed kinfolk might have acted surprised by the high squeal factor of the boiling sea of an audience—which appeared equal parts sleeveless dudes and doe-eyed girls (the one in front of me was wearing a shirt reading “It’s my baby!” and nearly had a conniption fit when the guys played “Knocked Up” during their encore set)—but given the band’s arena-rock turn on its latest record, this is the sort of crowd they should learn to expect.
We missed the first few songs due to car trouble and an overcrowded lot that forced us and the other latecomers into an office park about a quarter mile away, but the song that played our arrival—“Fans”—seemed apropos as we politely elbowed our way into the pavilion. “Fans,” from the third album, Because of the Times, is a model of form following function—a bouyant pop paean that instructs its muses to “rock to the rhythm and bop to the beat of the radio.” Votaries from the band’s earlier, indier years years might have preferred the Kings not embrace the idea of radio pop so openly, but the adoring masses at Merriweather cheered wildly at this and other new-fan favorites such as “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody,” the display screens on their digital cameras glowing like moon jellies.
Their stoic stage presence notwithstanding, the Kings went big and they went loud, Caleb hitting the rockstar notes with his simultaneously torn-up and pitch-perfect voice. “This is the most fun I’ve had at a show in a long time,” Caleb said as the set drew toward the end. “That means we’re going to come back real soon.” I swear I felt the cheers resonate in my kidneys. Native sons of the American South and pop idols in the U.K., it appeared by night’s end as though the Kings of Leon had successfully made a fiefdom of Maryland.
Footage from those moon-jelly digicams is all over YouTube, but the ear-caving volume of the show made for a lot of clipping. The below video was taken from far enough away to capture the audio pretty well, if you don’t mind getting seasick. For the full effect, plug your computer into a speaker stack and swallow it.