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They sounded promising at the Fine Line in 2005. Their first First Avenue gig confirmed the buzz. They were even more solid when they returned there for two sold-out nights. At the Orpheum Theatre last year, they stretched out like pros.
Would you believe, though, that Kings of Leon -- who have come so far in five short years -- never sounded better than they did Monday night at Target Center? And that's with some of the members fighting viruses, too.
The Tennessee-bred band of brothers (plus one cousin) proved their fast ascent into arena-rock royalty wasn't the result of its colorful back story, nor their tight jeans and heartthrob looks. Of course, the female-ruled crowd of 10,000 didn't seem to mind all the big-screen close-ups of frontman Caleb Followill's innocent blue eyes or his brother Nathan's muscles in action behind the drum kit.
From the opening tune "Crawl," the Kings were running at full tilt. The raucous Southern-boogie sound of earlier tunes such as "Molly's Chambers" and "Charmer" (both played early in the 90-minute set) didn't lose their oomph moving into the bigger venue. Meanwhile, the band added to that impact by throwing plenty of new, arena-ready elements into the mix without messing up the chemistry.
The stage production -- a three tiered lighting/video rig stretched over the entire stage -- was surprisingly nifty for a band that just graduated from clubs a year ago (but also not overdone). An even bolder step up, they filled in the set list with more anthemic, big-chorus tunes befitting an arena show, most of which came off last year's million-selling album, "Only by the Night."
How big and anthemic are we talking? "Sex on Fire" burned through the crowd mid-show, as sweaty fans swayed to the grinding beat while yelling out the ecstatic "oooooh" chorus. The slower and more melodic gems "Manhattan" and "Fans" had the crowd standing mesmerized and singing word-for-word. When the current hit "Use Somebody" arrived in the one encore, the energy level finally reached U2 heights.
Referencing "Use Somebody" earlier, Caleb gave the crowd an aw-shucks speech that sounded as heartfelt as heyday Bono.
"Today, Kings of Leon have their first No. 1 song in America," the singer said between sniffles into a Kleenex (and swigs from a celebratory shot-o'-something; his voice sounded fine, though).
"Thank you for giving [us] our best year ever."
It's agreed then.
Monday's young Londoner openers band White Lies lived up to their Cure-meets-Joy Division pedigree by dressing all in black and churning out rhythmic gloom-and-boom tracks with titles such as "Death." It was an impressive enough coming-out, but don't look for them to headline arenas five years from now.
See KoL's set list and more photos at startribune.com/artcetera.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658