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Kings of England

Week of May 24, 2007

The several, several days and nights of waiting to hear from someone — anyone — with a Kings of Leon pedigree finally conclude with a nearly last-minute cell-phone hookup with Matthew Followill, cousin to Caleb, Jared and Nathan, guitarist and one-quarter of Kings of Leon.

To celebrate, I ride the subway home listening to the Stones' classic Exile on Main Street. Right now, post-long-awaited interview, on a New York City subway where thronged commuters have certainly learned to keep their conversations, if not their hands, to themselves, and where iPods are as de rigueur as pants, I'm rocking out to "Rocks Off" while, a quarter of a world away, Kings of Leon proceeds with its final U.K. set.

Maybe Exile is a cleanser for my aural palate. Perhaps I've overdosed from almost a week of daily cram sessions with the third and latest Kings album, Because of the Times.Or maybe I've just got Jagger on the brain.

Matthew Followill (hand over heart) pledges allegiance to his cousins, the Kings of Leon.
James Minchin III
Matthew Followill (hand over heart) pledges allegiance to his cousins, the Kings of Leon.

Or blame the official Kings of Leon press kit, which is infused with the band's brushes with greatness: photo shoots with Chrissie Hynde, an onstage jam with Eddie Vedder, opening stints for U2 and Bob Dylan. Then there's Mick Jagger, who leaves his daughter behind after a casual backstage rock-&-roll-royalty visitation.

Both the famous and the British — and the Stones frontman is undeniably both — love them some Kings of Leon.

A full 80 percent of sales of the band's first two albums, Youth & Young Manhood and Aha Shake Heartbreak, occurred within British borders, and Because of the Times launched to No. 1 on the UK charts. (Sure, the Brits are also partial to Kasabian, but when's the last time you did something better than anyone else in an entire country?) There's already talk of a show at Wembley, England's live-music mother lode, when the boys return this summer.

"I hope America wises up and, you know, starts to like us or whatever," Matthew Followill says from somewhere inside the cavernous Carling Academy in Glasgow, Scotland. "But I mean, it's fine in America. It's like, we play to, like, 1,500 kids, you know, and that's pretty good. It'll feel weird to come back and play for such a little crowd, and a crowd that might not care as much as a big crowd here, but as far as leaving here, I'm ready to get back to America, man."

The band's profile isn't completely under the radar here; in April Kings of Leon performed on The Tonight Show and at Coachella. But prior to this tour, the group was likely best known for a different kind of press-kit posturing.

As the story goes, the three Followill brothers spent their youth (and young manhood) traveling America's highways and byways in their father's charge as Leon Followill, a former itinerant and now-defrocked Pentecostal preacher, spread the word of God. The fruits of rock & roll were strictly forbidden. (Cousin Matthew's upbringing was just a little more normal. "I didn't travel around too much, but my family did move around a lot," he says.)

By now, however, Matthew and his cousins are sick to death of the reference.

"We got tired of that on the last record," he says. "We're like, 'Jesus.' Like, Please."

And yet, the story gave the band a hook that helped attract a ready-made audience of Brits. Like the Stones and their Delta-blues fixation, the British love all things Southern. What's myopically seen as "the real thing."

Despite one track, "Camaro," named for the patron steed of the below-the-Mason-Dixon-line working class, Kings of Leon makes a move on Because of the Timesto rub away the stamp of post-Pentecostal Southern-rock band. Whereas Exilewas the result of a big band pulling back the reins into a claustrophobic château of sound, Because is expansive, spacious and ambitious, a long-limbed stretch for a band that has come late to the rock game.

True, singer Caleb Followill's frenzied yelps don't match the beneficent, symbolic musings of, say, Bono. But the Kings' instrumentation borrows heavily from the post-punk, arena-rock efforts of acts such as U2. Listen to the separated bass of "Charmer" (see: the Pixies) and the Edge-influenced guitar triplets of "Ragoo."

"It's bigger," Matthew says. "We toured with a lot of bigger bands, and we played big stadiums and stuff like that, and we were writing songs, and we just really liked the way they sounded in those rooms. We've got more atmospheric songs on this record, but a lot of it is because we started using guitar pedals and vocal effects and reverb on the drums and stuff to make it sound like it was big, you know."

And if the music doesn't provide the be-all and end-all? If a writer feels compelled to mention Matthew's cousins' youthful travels with their fire-and-brimstone father through a South that's all but forgotten? Well, the guitarist is either smart enough or polite enough or Southern enough (they're not mutually exclusive, you know) to bestow his secular blessing.

"If you have to," he says, "it's fine."

8 p.m. Friday, May 25. Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard. $25. 314-726-6161.

The Download

You probably haven't heard of Cajun Dance Party yet, but across the pond, the indie-pop quintet is the next big thing. Since winning its high-school Battle of the Bands, CDP has been selling out shows and sorting through label offers. The debut seven-inch single, "The Next Untouchable," was limited to only 500 copies, and luckily, one was sent to My Old Kentucky Blog (myoldkyhome.blogspot.com) earlier this month. Download the track and head over to the group's page at www.isound.com/cajun_dance_party for a few demos. By the time the full-length drops, CDP's members should be able to celebrate with a pint — in their hometown of London, at least.

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