- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2007

How fast is the trip from Mozart’s “Requiem” to the backwoods of eastern Tennessee?

Quick, as it turns out: Preachers’-kids-turned-rockers Kings of Leon took the stage Sunday night at the 9:30 Club to the sounds of a sublime “Dies Irae” movement (“day of wrath,” incidentally) before strapping on guitars and tearing into “Four Kicks,” a raucous, staccato tale of switchblades, guns and cockfights.

About 75 minutes later, the “gold-digging women” of “Slow Night, So Long” were on the receiving end of KOL’s intoxicating aggression.

This band of brothers (plus one cousin) emerged from the post-Strokes rock landscape in 2003, thanks in part to an irresistible, copy-ready life story — sheltered sons of traveling Pentecostal minister discover rock music in their late teens and, in about as much time as it takes for calluses to grow on fingertips, storm onto the A list.

It’s not quite selling one’s soul at the crossroads, but it’ll do for this century.

Since their debut, the impossibly tight-panted quartet have delivered two more albums, this year’s “Because of the Times” being the most recent. Each effort has been more compelling than the last, and the boys show no sign of fizzling (unlike, say, the Strokes).

The Followills (brothers Caleb, Jared and Nathan and cousin Matthew) are by no means virtuosos, but as with most great bands, there’s something ingenious about the way they play — and the influences (Southern rock, ‘80s post-punk) they fuse together.

At least half their songs, it seems, are in the same key (E), and they rarely employ more than a handful of basic chords. Yet they’re so cleverly arranged and layered as to make even the most prosaic progression seem fresh.

As the band’s songs bubble up from the simplest of introductions, one notices that every constituent part — a driving bass line from Jared, a melodic single-line guitar phrase from Matthew or a shuffling, two-handed attack on Nathan’s high-hat — is hummable on its own. After all these parts coalesce, you’ve got the proverbial greater sum.

The formula was most evident on songs such as “Black Thumbnail,” on which singer Caleb — hair cut clean and feet poured into stacked white boots — growled over a single chord for more than a minute while the band tautly built up to a full attack.

“My Party” was introduced with a two-note guitar hiccup that, of itself, sounded almost silly until, gradually, the tune opened up into a lively swing — and then doubled back into its dark, seductive refrain.

Fully three tunes — “Fans,” “The Runner” and “Arizona” — seemed to borrow heavily from the Allman Brothers classic “Melissa,” yet each had its own distinctive rhythmic twist.

On songs such as “Charmer” and “On Call,” 25-year-old Caleb’s voice was magnificently shrill even if, as a performer, he still seems to be searching for a compelling reason to move around the stage.

The tales the Followills spin are about life lived on the margins, fueled by booze and “bumps” of cocaine, threatened with violence and in pursuit of flesh. The lyrics are cryptic enough (a sample from Bob Dylan’s favorite, “Trani”: “And she’ll shine/once she’s crossed the line/’cause all tied to the chair”) to sound genuinely dangerous.

The Bay Area’s Black Rebel Motorcycle Club shared the bill with KOL Sunday night. Supporting its latest album, the misfired “Baby 81,” BRMC struggled for an hour to reconcile the rootsy material of its previous album, “Howl,” with the drone-y alt-rock for which it’s better known.

Long, tuneless jams drew muted responses from an audience that leaned toward those backslidden Tennessean headliners.

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