If there’s any hugely successful band that could benefit from scaling down, it’s Kings of Leon. Achieving unambiguous rock stardom with “Sex on Fire’’ and “Use Somebody’’ could very well have been a curse for the group of brothers and their cousin who started out playing scrappy garage rock. At TD Garden on Friday, they seemed like they saw the problem but couldn’t quite commit to doing what it would take to address it.
Granted, that’s hard to do while playing in front of more than 11,000 fans, especially when they're singing along with “Use Somebody’’ from the first note. And songs like “Notion,’’ “Tonight,’’ and “The Immortals’’ sounded precision-engineered for arena impact, massive right down to the space between the drumbeats.
But there were plenty of signs that Kings of Leon have become too big to leave any room for getting caught up in their own noise, resulting in a polished, mechanical professionalism for most of the nearly two-hour concert. “Supersoaker’’ was emblematic of the new material, peppy but not especially spirited, and older songs like “Four Kicks’’ and “Molly’s Chambers’’ lacked the fire of Kings of Leon’s leaner days, buckling under the heavy hand with which they were played. Matthew Followill’s stinging guitar solos used to cut through the material; on Friday, they mostly just filled the space, even when he picked them with his teeth.
Every so often, flashes of Kings of Leon’s earlier spark poked through. The hip-shaking “Family Tree’’ rolled neatly, and the whole band seemed to snap to the driving, sneering chug of “Don't Matter’’ in a way they hadn’t in the 15 songs previous. (By contrast, the following “Radioactive’’ returned to being merely busy.) And encore songs “Black Thumbnail’’ and especially the itchy, thrumming “Crawl’’ were sharp and on point. But Kings of Leon were mostly just determined to keep the machine going.
Opener Gary Clark Jr.’s performance had the feel of a hotshot guitar-slinger who could barely be bothered playing hotshot guitar. His blues-rock (with the emphasis on rock) worked fine for setting the tone but wasn’t quite strong enough to stand on its own.Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @spacecitymarc.