Kings Of Leon Reign Supreme At BST Hyde Park 2024

It’s around 10pm on a Sunday night. Tens of thousands of people are massed into a park in central London. They’ve just shouted and danced along to a loud, fast, aggressive rendition of Kings Of Leon‘s The Bandit.

“We’re so glad you’re here and not at Glastonbury or wherever else you could be,” declares Caleb Followill. “We don’t need no Glastonbury; we’ve got our own little festival right here.”

The singer’s not wrong. Numerically, BST Hyde Park‘s three stages and today’s lineup of 13 acts may be no match for Worthy Farm. But, with so much talent on display, it’s still impossible to catch everything you want. Clashes happen; decisions have to be made.

Kings Of Leon @ BST Hyde Park 2024

Kings Of Leon @ BST Hyde Park 2024 (Ellie Koepke)
Kings Of Leon @ BST Hyde Park 2024 (Ellie Koepke)

It all begins on The Great Oak Stage with the glistening, slightly retro indie pop of LA trio, Cannons. Think shimmering guitars, slinky grooves, synthy beats, and fresh vocals, all performed with precision and style — especially from singer Michelle Joy, who gently glides and twirls across the stage. Standouts include the Drive soundtrack-style opener Heartbeat Highway, sultry Caribbean-flavoured Purple Sun, the thumping Desire with its disco guitar, and yacht rock closer Fire For You.

Over on The Birdcage Stage, it’s Nieve Ella‘s turn to impress. Her shoegazey, dream pop sound may be in vogue right now (hello, NewDad and Bleach Lab), but the 21-year-old’s songs certainly aren’t a case of style over substance. Take bounding new single, Sugarcoated. It sounds fantastic and, as per the conversational singer-songwriter’s introduction, turns out to be about something highly relatable: imposter syndrome. Elsewhere, 19 In A Week is about growing up, while Your Room puts a new spin on an age-old theme: it’s “about a boy” (who listens to Phoebe Bridgers). Everything’s performed playfully and energetically by Ella and her three-piece band with The Things We Say and a short adrenaline burst with a scream in its middle (seemingly called Ganni Top) the best of the best.

Meanwhile, Keo are opening The Rainbow Stage on the other side of the park with their ’90s-tinged alternative rock. Like, say, Wunderhorse, the London-based four-piece formed by brothers Finn Keogh and Conor Keogh draw some inspiration from the likes of The Bends-era Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, and Pixies. But, like Ella, they’re telling their own stories with all the intensity (and jumping) of youth. Like new single Fly (from upcoming EP Thorn), which builds gently from quiet introspection to pained roar and, ultimately, release as it deals with toxic relationships and trust. Live it’s a real gut punch and, like forthcoming single Crow (“I’d rather watch you bleed/ I’d rather cry over me”), a set highlight.

It’s a rush back to the other side of the park for a modern guitar legend. “I’m Gary Clark Jr. from Austin, Texas,” he says by way of introduction after swampy march Maktub. “Let’s have some fun.” Looking relaxed in sunglasses and a multicoloured beanie, he and a seven-piece band including three backing singers, do just that. Their five-song set leans heavily on new album JPEG RAW, which finds a musician most associated with blues-rock expanding his sonic palette. This Is Who We Are, with its choral intro, blends gospel and a hip-hop groove. What About The Children is a perfect slice of ’70s funk featuring a sweeter, higher vocal that showcases Clark’s increased confidence as a singer. And Habits (with its refrain of “I keep running in circles”) is more soulful than anything he’s done before. An ambitious 10-minute epic, it evolves into a complex instrumental section of time changes and African rhythms cut through by nuanced guitar playing, highlighting that live there’s been a change too. Clark seems far more interested in honouring the songs than padding them out with elaborate, show-offy solos. But he can (and does) still shred: Bright Lights, from the album Blak And Blu, absolutely blazes.

The sunshine continues on The Great Oak Stage with The Vaccines and their seemingly endless collection of bright, summery singalong songs. Perfect for a day like today are the likes of Love To Walk Away, Discount De Kooning (“maybe we can keep on dancing”), and Heartbreak Kid (with its twangy Tarantino-soundtrack vibe), all taken from bouncy new album Pick-Up Full Of Pink Carnations (celebrated with the flowers attached to the mic stands). All have the big melodies and even bigger choruses of the London quartet’s most enduring, most popular songs. Most get an outing today in a crowd-pleasing set: the “ra ra ra” in the title makes it obvious that Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra) is meant to be chanted en masse; Post Break-Up Sex is (again) as fun as the name suggests; Handsome is an unadulterated rockabilly rave; like Weezer‘s Buddy Holly, Teenage Icon captures the energy and innocence of the 1950s; the croony I Always Knew has Justin Young leading a “wooah wooah”-ing audience; If You Wanna and All My Friends Are Falling in Love are the perfect rousing anthems to end on. As The Vaccines tweet after their show: “hot damn hyde park”.

Keeping temperatures rising, Essex duo The Meffs bring their punk sound, attitude, and adrenaline to The Birdcage Stage. With song titles including Stand Up, Speak Out and two EPs called Broken Britain, singer-guitarist Lily and drummer-backing singer Lewis have clearly got a lot to say. And, even more clearly, they know how to say it. With the likes of recent single Clowns (about politicians, of course, with riffs as angry as the vocals) and Dead In The City (restrained vocals, pummeling choruses) the band make a point and a connection almost immediately. Getting an audience who don’t know your stuff to jump around isn’t that difficult if you play this kind of no-nonsense punk — that’s kind of the genre’s point. But having them belt out lyrics they’ve never heard before is no mean feat. “We started the day as the band no one knew. We ended the day with a load of Kings Of Leon fans in a mosh pit shouting along to our songs,” the band post on their socials later. “When you think things can’t get better.”

Meanwhile, over on The Rainbow Stage, Somebody’s Child are having a similar effect. The project of Cian Godfrey from Dublin specialises in the kind of widescreen indie rock that contemporaries like Inhaler and Sam Fender have reintroduced to a younger audience. Dressed in a The Cure T-shirt and supported by an expansive band (two additional guitarists, bassist, keyboard player, and drummer), Godfrey easily recreates all the textures of his self-titled debut album — but with the added zest that comes with performing live to a crowd. The big-hearted Broken Record and Hold Me Like You Wanna set the tone before How Long? slows the pace a little with its mellow War On Drugs vibe and climactic guitar solo. The exuberant I Need Ya (which is “a gentle reminder to stay young for as long as you can”), effortless Jungle, and rushing We Could Start A War raise heart rates once more, but it’s an impassioned Time of My Life, dedicated to a fallen friend, that hits hardest.

Paolo Nutini is equally big on emotion, opening his time on The Great Oak Stage with the primal bellowing that begins Afterneath. Soon he’s speaking into a red telephone as the seven musicians surrounding him create an absolutely hypnotic atmosphere that, in a mercurial set, is quickly replaced by the Stax Records-inspired sax blasts and organ solo of Scream (Funk My Life Up). The propulsive Lose It (heavy on guitar and a raspy, soulful vocal from the Scotsman in a Stiff Records T-shirt) is amongst a selection of tracks from 2022’s diverse Last Night In The Bittersweet that also includes the yearning Acid Eyes and Tom Petty-adjacent Petrified In Love, interspersed with older songs like Pencil Full Of Lead, thankfully stripped of the ragtime vibe that undermined the original recording on Sunny Side Up. That album’s lead single, Candy, elicits the biggest response of Nutini’s set, from the cheers that greet his strumming of the opening chords to the a capella section where everyone joins in. Yet Iron Sky, which ends his time on stage, is far more satisfying for its expansive orchestration, excerpts of Charlie Chaplin‘s final speech from The Great Dictator paired with visuals of global conflict, and (most importantly) a vocal performance that channels Joe Cocker‘s take on With A Little Help From My Friends at Woodstock.

The headliners bring a hint of that classic festival to London tonight. Yes, they have a massive production, whether it’s the sound or the giant screens showing glittering lights, stars, game show sets, lyrics, dramatic nature scenes, and the band, of course. But, from the “KOL” in duct tape on the drum head to the ’70s lighting (think Queen‘s Live Killers rig tipped on its side), there’s still something charmingly lo-fi about Kings Of Leon. The emphasis is very clearly on the songs and now, 21 years into their career with nine albums to their name, they have plenty to choose from.

Of course the new release, Can We Please Have Fun, gets the most exposure, but slow-burning set opener Ballerina Radio is the perfect warm up; Nothing To Do (filmed up close, hand-held guerilla style) pairs the grit of their earliest work with two decades’ experience; the swaggering Mustang isn’t accidentally played before the debut LP’s Molly’s Chambers; Seen is more than strong enough to close the main set, especially with that “Hey, coat rider” coda pushed to its absolute breaking point; and gentle groover Rainbow Ball holds its own in the encore.

With 29 songs in the set, there’s still plenty of room for the back catalogue. And, with the Followills better musicians and performers than they were even 10 years ago, Pyro burns brighter than it has before, the country twang of Comeback Story feels earned rather than affected, an urgent The Bandit is a reminder to revisit When You See Yourself, and the pair from WALLS (Find Me and Waste A Moment) now sound like they should have on the album: big, brash, brilliant.

Kings Of Leon @ BST Hyde Park 2024

Kings Of Leon @ BST Hyde Park 2024 (Dave J Hogan)
Kings Of Leon @ BST Hyde Park 2024 (Dave J Hogan)

Even the oldest and the most well known songs sound more vital than ever. The Bucket and Taper Jean Girl, performed back to back, still jangle and jive, while Milk (also from Aha Shake Heartbreak) finally reaches its full-fat potential. Manhattan, Revelry, Closer, Cold Desert, Use Somebody, and especially the smash Sex On Fire (all from breakout album Only By The Night) feel fresh, as if they’re performed by a band actually enjoying themselves rather than going through the motions of being forced to play what the audience want.

And it’s not just the Hyde Park crowd who seem to think so. Drummer Nathan Followill, caught on the big screens blowing gum and (during the encore) wearing an England football shirt, declares on X afterwards: “My favorite London show EVER!!!! I am so full of love and joy, my cup runneth over. Words can’t express how grateful I am for your love and support for 20 plus years. I will always love you. Copyright Dolly Parton.”

Kings Of Leon @ BST Hyde Park 2024

Kings Of Leon @ BST Hyde Park 2024 (Ellie Koepke)
Kings Of Leon @ BST Hyde Park 2024 (Ellie Koepke)

Live review of BST Hyde Park 2024 featuring Kings Of Leon at Hyde Park, London on 30th June 2024 by Nils van der Linden. Photography by Catherine Beltramini. Additional photos of Kings Of Leon by Dave Hogan & Ellie Koepke. Photography of Paolo Nutini by HP van Velthoven.

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