Kings of Leon, which was to have appeared at the First Niagara Pavilion on Friday, has now canceled as many Pittsburgh concerts as it has played.
On its first national tour in 2003, back when it was a raw garage band with a Southern accent, Kings played the former Rosebud in the Strip. Having gained popularity with the hits “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody,” KoL returned in April 2009 to headline the Palumbo Center with the Walkmen.
The attempted leap to the great outdoors has not gone well. The 2010 show at the Pavilion was canceled due to a “scheduling conflict” (word was that sales were slow), and now Friday’s show, along with a Thursday show in New Jersey, is canceled as drummer Nathan Followill is still recovering from a broken rib suffered in a tour bus accident on Aug. 9. (It’s worth noting that the KoL show at the Pavilion hit Groupon soon after the on-sale and recently was slashed to an offer of $20 for the $51 tickets.)
With this tour, the band was on the rebound from the great 2011 KoL meltdown in Dallas. That was the late July show when frontman Caleb Fallowill abruptly announced, “I’m gonna go backstage and I’m gonna vomit, I’m gonna drink a beer and I’m gonna come back out and play three more songs.”
He never did, and a few days later, the rest of that tour supporting fifth album “Come Around Sundown” was canceled, and Kings of Leon was about to embark on an unforeseen hiatus.
“A lot happened after that,” the singer-guitarist said in a recent teleconference. “We all had a reflection period. We took a couple steps back and kind of walked away from the music world for a minute and tried to figure out what it was in life that made us happy and made us want to keep doing what we were doing.
“I spent a lot of time in New York, I think the other guys spent a lot of time in Tennessee, and we talked a lot, but we tried to not talk about music for a little while, and it was something that we probably should have done a couple years before, because we worked ourselves and pushed ourselves to a point where if we didn’t stop, our bodies were going to do it.”
By that point, the band of three Bible-bred brothers from Franklin, Tenn. — Caleb, bassist Jared and drummer Nathan — and guitarist cousin Matthew had had a pretty good run, starting with a debut in 2003. Oddly, in spite of its Southern garage roots sound, the band broke first in England, topping the U.K. charts in 2007 with the third album, “Because of the Times.” (“The UK is just kind of cooler musically. They just kind of like music more. It’s more popular,” Matthew noted).
With 2008’s “Only by the Night,” KoL moved further away from its roots with stadium-sized anthems “Use Somebody” and “Sex on Fire,” earning the group a Grammy and multiplatinum sales.
After the 2011 incident, the band was confronted with whether to move on after “Sundown.” Jared tweeted, “There are problems in our band bigger than not drinking enough Gatorade.”
It wasn’t until January 2013 that they got to work on what would be become “Mechanical Bull,” an album, led by the breezy Strokes-like “Supersoaker,” that’s considered to be less labored and more fun than “Sundown.”
“Going into this record we didn’t know what to expect,” Nathan said, “because we had kind of taken a break and stepped away from the music scene for a little while to spend some time with the family and being fathers and husbands. And it all just kind of fell into place. Once the record was finished we were all pleased with it, but I was surprised at how quick we were able to do it but keep the Kings of Leon sound and keep the integrity of our craft.”
Taking “Bull” on the road, Caleb says, “We wanted to do something different and challenge ourselves to have a little more fun on the road, and for us that’s doing something out of our comfort zone. We wanted our show to be a bigger thing. We worked with our team to make the show bigger and we also dug deeper into our catalog.”
A week before the bus accident the band had a prime spot at Lollapalooza where it surprised the crowd with a cover of the Robyn song “Dancing On My Own.”
Caleb explained that his wife works in an industry where she holds parties and “In order to get all those pretty women dancing, you always play a song, so I’ve always been fond of that song. We were backstage one day and I was playing the chords to ‘Use Somebody,’ and we realized that you barely had to change the chords and you could sing that song over it. We had the option of playing a cover. We tried that one and it worked. So, really, in Chicago, we were trying to get all the ladies dancing.”
Asked if it was an attempt to show a lighter side of a band that takes itself seriously, Nathan said, “We don’t view ourselves as taking ourselves as seriously as most people do. That kind of surprises me when I read stuff that says we’re super serious because if you could see us backstage five minutes before we go on, you would think we’re 10-year-old boys being idiots.”
As they’ve gotten older, Nathan said, they’ve learned to relax more around each other.
“I think now that we’ve grown up, we save the arguments for the really important stuff. Early on, you stick three brothers in any confined space for a certain amount of time and there’s gonna be some tomfoolery going on. I think as we’ve gotten older it’s been easier for us to be around each other and enjoy each other’s company because when we’re off the road it’s pretty much being with our own families for the most of the time, so we now view being on the road as our own little clubhouse.”
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh fans, they won’t be going back to the clubhouse until Sunday at the Made in America festival in Philadelphia.