When I was younger, lots of things annoyed me about going to gigs. People mostly. Don’t get me wrong, lots of things still annoy me now. I have not mellowed as I’ve gotten older. Little did I know that over time I would grow into one of the people that would have infuriated my younger self. How was I to know that everyone gets old and world weary?
If my younger self were at a gig and heard someone announce “I prefer the early stuff” my eyes, full of pure disgust, would very slowly roll right back into the nether regions of my head. What that sentence meant to me and what it said about the person saying it were very clear. The phrase itself is pretty harmless but when you add the context? What I heard when someone said that was “This band is finished, I’m over this”.
It was never, in my mind at least, a simple statement of preference. Maybe this person did still love the band and did in all earnestness prefer the early stuff but I wanted the horse’s ass who said he preferred the early stuff to leave. Let us youngsters who understood what was happening revel in the gig without your negativity effecting us. I didn’t call myself a youngster at the time, that’s just snuck into my vocabulary since I’ve gotten older. I haven’t, as of yet, yelled at youngsters to get out of my garden but I can feel it coming.
Kings of Leon are the band that are most intertwined with my getting older. When I was young and full of vigour, so were they. When I had my whole life in front of me, so did they. Now, I’m exhausted by life and the world has stripped me of my youthful exuberance…just like them.
I’ve always been very aware of the fact that I was going to grow old along with them. They are in or around the same age as me. Matthew, the guitarist, is one month older. I knew we would reach our peak together. I knew at some point in time I would hear someone much younger than me refer to the Kings as an older band. I knew it would hurt. I was right.
Their first full album was called Youth and Young Manhood and it was all about being young. I was trying to work on something unrelated to this post while listening to that album and I had to stop working and just enjoy it. It’s not their best album but it was perfect for its time and place, at least for me. I bought the album in a small record shop which of course doesn’t exist anymore. I still recall the quizzical look on the face of the employee when I asked for it. In hindsight, he may have just been puzzled/annoyed at why I didn’t just go and look in the K section. Who’s to know?
At the time they were a secret band. At least in my circles they were. None of my friends knew them and I only knew who they were because my brother had told me about these weird shaggy looking dudes that were on Jools Holland…
Isn’t it nuts looking at them then knowing what we know now? This band, these four kids who looked like a Creedance Clearwater Revival tribute band, would become one of the world’s most popular rock bands and play in front of thousands and thousands of people. That seemed even less likely when you actually saw the band play a full show. They stood real close together, Caleb, the lead singer, barely spoke to the audience. They just stood there in their tight jeans and small t-shirts and sang their songs.
That’s not to say that their shows weren’t good. I’ve told many people about the time that I was dancing so much at one of their shows that I ended up outside the venue. Like many great stories there are elements of truth to that and some mildly exaggerated elements also. Regardless of this I could not see super-stardom in their future. This was all still after one album. Ah Ha Shake Heartbreak was their second and it’s one of my all time favourite albums.
On the old version of iTunes, when you needed the CD to upload the music to the iPod classic, there was a play count. It kept track of how many times you listened to each song that was on your iPod. Each time you connected to your computer it would update and it was a great way of finding out just how often you listened to a particular song or band. ‘The Bucket’ was by a distance the song I listened to the most on my iPod. I adored this song and the album it came on.
It felt like a continuation of the previous album. The guys had obviously improved as musicians and songwriters but the songs themselves stayed in the same style and tone as the first album. Meaning that most of the songs were about being young and trying to get girls. They were definitely getting more popular but I still had a good handle on them and their popularity.
When I feel like I’ve discovered a band and I’m with them from the beginning, from the ground floor, I feel like they belong to me. I understand that rationally I’m not the only fan of the band in the world, because of course I’m not, but music-love is incredibly irrational. By this point in time the band were absolutely more popular, a lot of my friends liked them but I was fine with sharing them around with them. Letting other people enjoy the band that I alone discovered. I know that technically my brother discovered them but he doesn’t hang out with me so he didn’t count.
This is where things started to change. Because Of The Times seemed to open the band up to a new audience. The new songs were slightly more measured, not as much about chasing girls this time. ‘On Call’ was their first single from the album and I didn’t love it. I still don’t. I couldn’t figure out why it was chosen as the single when there are much better songs on the album to choose from.
What confused me more was how popular it was. I was confused by people who weren’t huge fans of the band telling me how much they loved the song. I’m pretty sure this was the very first instance where I may have at least thought the words “I prefer the earlier stuff”. I didn’t want them to grow and evolve into something new. The more musically intelligent of my friends were saying that this album was their best and now they’re a real band. They’re not just kids singing songs about having sex anymore. But that was exactly what I wanted! I wanted them to make their first two albums over and over again. Green Day do that and I still love them!
Then came the tipping point. The point when the band felt so far away from what I wanted them to be that I began to lose interest. Only By The Night was released one year after Because Of The Times and along with it came the monster hit ‘Sex On Fire’.
I should clarify that I still loved the band. I’m talking like I didn’t like those last two albums but I did. It took a while to warm to Because Of The Times but Only By The Night I instantly liked and ‘Sex On Fire’ did reach ‘The Bucket’ levels of playing time on my iPod. But it did feel like the music was splitting into two. At a gig you would go from quirky weird rock songs to giant stadium rock anthems. The crowd seemed to split that way too from the people like me who liked them when they were shaggy garage rockers to the people who saw them as giant stadium rock gods.
From then on the band and me slowly parted ways. They released more albums but they were never as good as those first few. It was sad. And we’d see each other every once in a while and I’d remember the good times and think about how much fun it used to be and I’d smile. The truth is we’d grown apart and we had been for a long time. We both wanted different things. The guys wanted to grow up and be more adult whereas I wanted them to stay forever young.
It’s a classic tale. Boy meets band. Boy loves band. Boy gets old and weary. Band gets old and weary. They mutually part ways so they can both move on and be happy. But sometimes, on a cold winter night when there’s been some wine or whiskey, the boy reminisces. He thinks about how it was better with that band than any other band since. Especially when they sang ‘ Trani’.