DARIEN CENTER – Kings of Leon exist for nights like this. That midsummer heat, that carefree romance, that looming doorstop of the adult autumn.
The Nashville band brought its Southern summer charm to Darien Lake Wednesday night for tour stop showcasing its 2016 album “WALLS,” or “We Are Like Love Songs.”
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats opened with a set of country-gospel that knocked me off my feet. For a bunch of bearded white guys from Denver, they have true soul. Three kinds of horns, organ and keys, congas, tambourine, acoustic and rhythm guitars, shoe-filling bass, unrelenting drums and Rateliff's Southern drawl made for fireworks.
Like a Van Morrison revival in a church tent. Try on their hand-clappy, Cajun hit "S.O.B." for starters and just try to stop. I could have listened to these guys for another two hours. Someday more of us will.
Still, the headliners owned the night. They are the Followill boys — brothers Caleb, Nathan and Jared, and cousin Matthew — and with seven studio albums over the last 14 years they have a legion of fans. They stand on the merits of their music, and not celebrity. They are a quote-unquote "real" band. Thank the music gods those still exist.
For their followers, the Kings' songs resonate like a friend's advice. Like their album title suggests, we are the songs we sing. Their vibe is vulnerable but appealingly masculine; a generation of millennials in song. Think Coldplay, but self-aware.
Opening song "Conversation Piece" cooed cool thoughts in a pool of purple lights, an invitation to settle in. Stage cameras panned back and forth with a cinematic touch.
"Taper Jean Girl" ramped things up with flair. Nathan drove those drums up a hill before bassist Jared slid us down in a swirl.
"The Bucket" and "Mary" called on the virtues of a tight, short, repetitive song. Buddy Holly came to mind a couple times. He'd probably approve of this simple dance rock.
But they were inspirational, too. "Notion" offered a battle cry to the hopeless; stay the course, remember that you've been here before, you're on track. Who doesn't need that reminder every now and again? "Fans" offered similar positive reinforcement with a danceable call-and-response from the committed crowd. If they made "The Breakfast Club" today, Judd Nelson might walk across a high school football field to this tune.
A soaring (read: Coldplay-like) "Use Somebody" captured the cross-hairs of lonely romance. So did "Milk," a small, unplugged performance, like a rite of passage: Call me back, please, I need you, you need me, we need us.
These are the lessons of youth, if we're lucky, when we're resilient, lessons we re-learn over and again. This accounts for what sounds like a timeless sound in this foursome. Behind me, a father and son chanted and air-drummed together.
For the romantics, the weed-flavored escapism of "Talahina Sky" sounded particularly fanciful in an acoustic setup. Floating on clouds, waving to the birds. What a visual from this audio.
The title track from "WALLS" brought us back to the ground, where the dust always settles. These songs might get high on themselves and their occasional gimmicks, but they round themselves out with honest balance. What feels like rock bottom does lift you up.
What a sobering reminder on this midsummer night. As Caleb called out "All the walls come down," a video panel lifted up to reveal an even bigger screen and brighter lights. The sky eventually opens up. Nice work, guys.