TORONTO - If Kings of Leon needs to include gang vocals on its next album, the band should seriously consider recording in Toronto.
On Friday night, when the Tennessee-based four-piece hit the stage at Kool Haus, fans roared along with nearly every chorus, intensifying songs by making them sound more epic. Whether the tune was old or new, audience members knew the lyrics, and they weren't embarrassed to let the band know it.
The group's new album, Only by the Night, has brought the band success in its home country, debuting at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and giving Coldplay's Viva La Vida a run for its money.
However, the Kings' transition from scruffy southern-rock boozehounds to clean-cut hit-makers over the past five years has been met with some criticism. Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher recently told Rolling Stone about his distaste for the new album's U2-like sheen and the band's "sleeveless" new look.
Still, critics of the newer stuff don't seem to live here, because the sold-out venue filled up rather quickly.
The night began with a rollicking set by The Whigs, a garage rock three-piece from Athens, Georgia. The combination of tight jeans, plaid shirts and long messy hair made the group look like they had just materialized in the present from the '90s alt-rock scene. Indeed, their jangly guitars and synchronized headbanging set an energetic tone for the evening.
Next, Brooklyn band We Are Scientists brought their indie-rock-meets-nonsensical-comedy-act to the stage. The poised group, led by Keith Murray and Chris Cain, immediately pretended to act as if they were obsessed with Toronto.
"'Toronto, Ontario, Canada' is the name of the new album," quipped Cain, glancing at Murray to see if he was grinning. Later on in the set, Cain preceded older tune Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt with the oddest introduction of the night.
"With this song, we're taking you back to the summer of 2006," he said. "For most people here, it was your first time going on waterslides, your first time having sex with a non-humanoid, and probably the first time you heard this song."
Audience chuckles turned into cheers as Kings of Leon took the stage amidst a murky blue glow and an ample supply of dry ice. It seemed like the perfect setting for Closer, the set's opening number with the lyrics written from the perspective of a lovesick vampire. The next tune, Crawl, began the crowd sing-along trend that lasted through nearly every song.
However, the highlight of the night came when the band performed Sex on Fire. As the stage lit up with sparkling lights, the crowd shouted along and the venue felt like a European soccer stadium filled with thousands of chanting fans.
"You having fun?" singer Caleb Followill asked at one point, even though he knew the answer.
The band of brothers, compromised of Caleb, Nathan and Jared and their cousin Matthew, performed a satisfying mixture of hard-rocking songs from their earlier albums and melodic tunes from their newer ones.
When the band played Use Somebody -- probably the most Coldplay-sounding song of their career -- silhouettes of sneakers and legs snaked out from the audience as people greeted the ballad with vigorous crowd surfing. If the Kings are trying to channel their inner U2 for mainstream success, Toronto doesn't seem to mind.
The catchier, the better, we say. That way, we can sing along.
Sun Rating: 4 out of 5