If there were any concern that Kings of Leon, the Saturday headliners of The Big Dance Concert Series, would lose some oomph by performing at 3 p.m., the band drummed it away with the thunderous opening chords of "Radioactive."
Playing to an audience that nearly filled Discovery Green, the band started out strong and only gained momentum, barely breaking between songs including "Crawl," "Notion," and "Back Down South."
It was a marked difference from the marked apathy that met emo-pop supporting act Panic! At The Disco. The duo played several songs of their new album, Vices and Virtues, and in their signature three-piece suits were unprepared for the 80-something degree heat and humidity.
And Panic! At The Disco weren't the only ones to find the crowd tough. After their set Duke legend Christian Laettner came onstage for a Q&A (alongside rapper/actor Ludacris) and got plenty of boos from the Duke-hating (or maybe just Kentucky-supporting) crowd — at least until he mentioned he loved listening to Van Halen and the Smashing Pumpkins. See? Music really does bring us together.
But when it came to Kings of Leon's set, the crowd was sold from the beginning. The light show was somewhat pointless in the overcast yet bright day, but the band brought energy to the stage and the crowd, including a little ass-shaking by lead singer Caleb Followill. On tape, Followill's voice is clear and almost plaintive, but in concert it's full of grit and growl. Sometimes he literally snarls out the lyrics to enticing effect.
Casual fans of their radio hits might have been surprised to hear so much southern rock in Kings of Leon's performance, but for many it's a return to the sound that made them rising star darlings of the indie circuit before graduating to playing stadiums in 2008.
Though the crowd had been moving and singing along throughout the performance, the apex came in the last 15 minutes, when the band sailed through three of their most recognizable hits, early favorite "Molly's Chamber," "Sex on Fire" and the Grammy-winning "Use Somebody."
When they broke to talk to the crowd, Followill said the band was happy to play Houston again (they were at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion last fall) and proclaimed this concert their best yet in the city. This seemed expected, since cameras on cranes swooped overhead, broadcasting part of the performance nationally in the CBS Final Four pre-game show.
Speaking of recording concerts, when did holding up a lighter or a cell phone light get replaced by holding phones overhead to get video recordings? One out of every 10 people within 50 yards of the stage was doing this during the band's closer, "Use Somebody," and there's just no way YouTube needs that many records of this event.
It was the kind of show that any festival would be lucky to have as the finale after a long day — it just happened to take place in the middle of the afternoon. Sunday's star Kenny Chesney has some big, Southern rocker shoes to fill.