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Cluster Return at the Knitting Factory

In the ’70s krautrock canon, Neu!, Amon Duul, and Can are renowned for their dramatic narratives, while Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk enjoy somewhat of a commercial presence; meanwhile, pioneering ambient duo Dieter Moebius and Hans Joachim Roedelius, a/k/a Cluster, mostly get the shaft. Indulge in their catalog, and you’ll be rewarded with a rich and varied experience, from the grand, relaxed Grosses Wasser (1979) to the sweet, lighthearted Apropos Cluster (1990)—they explored the ambient realm more extensively than Brian Eno, their most famous collaborator. Many of Cluster’s live and extended studio tracks meticulously survey a musical idea at length, later engaging in minor variations: a link they provided back to the early minimalist composers and a bridge to later techno singles. Praise or blame them for fathering electronica genres (IDM, trance, trip-hop), performers (Aphex, Moby), and labels (Fax, Kompakt). Even the pop electronics of their side project, Harmonia (with Neu!’s Michael Rother), might be linked to new wave’s birth, while the harsh electronics of their first two albums helped hatch industrial music. Top that, Ash Ra Tempel.

But after a 1996 tour, they took a 10-year hiatus (their friendship supposedly turned frosty), only re-emerging last year, first with Harmonia and now with Cluster itself. They’ve returned stateside for a tour that kicked off here, headlining a sold-out show for the fifth annual No Fun Festival, appropriately pegged to electronic music. A mini–record mart set up at the Knitting Factory sported only one Cluster album (Apropos), though—sadly understandable given their catalog of expensive imports and out-of-print items.

With opening bands and a crowd that could figuratively/literally be their offspring, the pair appeared for their late-night performance presiding over their synths, mixers, and CD-J units like academics experimenting, which they kinda were. They stared poker-faced at their gadgets, never taking their sight off each other, miles away while on the same stage: Roedelius mixed sounds and added austere synth passages, while Moebius contributed strange rhythms and distant clamoring. Sonically, the Cluster pair doesn’t mesh exactly, but crafted interesting contrasts nonetheless.

A “greatest non-hits” revue isn’t their style, so they played a pair of 20-minute improvs. First up was an evolving travelogue odyssey that wound its way from distant space into the murk of a swampy bog, mirroring their recent live CD, Berlin 2007. An orchestral wash grew and meshed with ghostly ambient waves, overcome by a military beat, zooming synth, and dripping sounds. Sonic apparitions drifted, dotted by stray vibraphones, tailing off into bells. Telegraph beeps tangled with shrill chugging noises before dissolving into a slow, clomping beat and, later, stray gurgling. Whistles and bird sounds disappeared into a distant orchestra, overcome by frog noises. Distant transmission noises over a subduing bass tone were replaced by further gurgling over a jazz beat, ending with stately synth and a trail of screaming mini-ghosts.

By comparison, their second song was much more sedate, with distant chugging, more stray bells, solemn bell-tolling, ambient piano, and the occasional sonic bird. After eager applause, the two conferred briefly (their first contact onstage) before delivering an appropriately late-night mood on the 10-minute encore.

Soon, Cluster will cap off their triumphant return with a new album— “whenever possible in the next future,” as Roedelius puts it. Hopefully, you won’t have to scour eBay for it.

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Robyn Is Finally Here

I couldn’t shake my conjecture that the audience at Robyn’s American debut did not include the same people who helped put “Show Me Love” and “Do You Know (What It Takes)” in Billboard‘s Top 10 in 1997. Maybe that’s based on my hunch that most people’s haircuts cost more than their tickets, or the abundance of BlackBerries, or the flabbergasted woman outside who loudly asked, “How is this show sold out?” “She’s had two Top 10 hits, and she just went to #1 in the U.K.,” I enthusiastically replied. She turned to me and laughed. “Well, I’ve never heard of her.”

I don’t blame her: That U.K. hit, “With Every Heartbeat,” a pulsating, string-filled, Björk-Madonna hybrid, hasn’t even charted in the U.S. Neither has her 2005 self-titled opus, a whip-smart, spongy pop juggernaut ranging from electro spousal analysis to ballads about robots to junior-high rap boasts. Yet both reveal an ex-teenpop star who’s made as many artistic strides as fellow Max Martin–produced cohort Britney Spears, on whose new “Piece of Me” you can hear Robyn singing backup.

This show’s backstory could’ve provided material for any number of biopics. Ten years ago, riding on the U.S. chart success of her two singles and the overwhelming popularity of Swedish-produced teenpop in general, Robyn was set to embark on a tour supporting the Backstreet Boys. But after being diagnosed with exhaustion, she returned to Sweden to recover and was quickly forgotten here. That is, until Internet music magazines picked up on Robyn and its standout track, the defiant knockout “Be Mine,” placing on many year-end ’05 best-of lists. Which brings us back to the Highline, a decade since prom night passed, Robyn’s big Springsteen Hammersmith Odeon moment. Armed with two drummers and a Korg/laptop quadrant stage left, it was a minimal setup that looked to unleash maximum force. Robyn entered amid a seizure-inducing machine-gun spray of pinpoint white lights, which knotted the purling growl of synth-bass that opens her cover of Teddybears’ “Cobrastyle.” Visibly smiling, dressed in matching black zip-up sweatshirt and leather miniskirt, with a white cutoff tee and white scarf (bandanna?) tied round her neck, her shock-white hair boyishly cut except for a bushel of locks swishing her face, she strutted. She leaned downwards into the mic when she belted the chorus. She cutely shook her head. And the crowd went ballistic.

The sound of a packed house screaming their faces off for a straightforward but spirited version of a lesser single left one feeling slightly incredulous. When Robyn sang the Knife-crafted “Who’s That Girl?”, it wasn’t like the crowd didn’t know the answer. Hell, everyone knew all the words! Nevertheless, for an artist whose emotional nuance and candid subject matter are her stock in trade, there were some surprises. “Bum Like You,” a rumbling, angsty rocker worth 10 Avrils, was admittedly inspired by a documentary about Bukowski. Likewise “Handle Me,” whose subject is censored on her album, is in fact about a Nazi creep. And it’s not every day that a pop star covers “Jack U Off,” let alone performs it as a Jerry Lee Lewis–style rollicking rocker.

But at 45 minutes or so (an hour tops, and that’s including the encore), the show ended too abruptly, as if a cane zipped out from stage left and yanked her off. Since Robyn’s arrival had been so delayed, I expected a sweat-soaked marathon set. However, that slight disappointment was a minor quibble: When Robyn blushingly chirped, “I’m so happy to be here,” you would’ve been hard-pressed to find anyone that didn’t already feel the same way.

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Dysfunctional Family Affair

I can attest to Sly Stone’s power as a Me Decade kid whose life he changed—along with metalheads (Hendrix) and rappers (P-Funk), he opened me up to black music and helped me get my freak on. Beyond his late-’60s/early-’70s hits, he rarely gets props for blurring racial and sexual lines in his own band, regrouping rock and r&b into a potent mix. But decades of no-show shows, drug-abuse tales, and lengthy hibernations turned him into a distant Aquarian-age memory.

Then, suddenly, a weird cameo at the 2006 Grammys, followed by a Vanity Fair
article that summer. Finally came a head-spinning surprise: Promoter Jill Newman arranged his first U.S. shows in 30-plus years. Prior to this December date, another pair of B.B. King’s shows went down November 20, and the reviews weren’t kind. (“Fiasco!” declared one writer.) But those pans showed some ignorance of Sly’s history: Squatting by his organ, letting other singers take leads, and frequently disappearing mid-concert was typical Sly behavior. Also, the little-reported second show that night had a better rep.

So was December 7 gonna be another Pearl Harbor? Would he show up? Did we really need to see him, no matter what shape he was in? Was the Family Stone really there? To that last question, at the early show, two original members (saxist Jerry Martini and trumpeter Cynthia Robinson) represented alongside Sly’s niece (and F.S. member Rosie Stone’s daughter) Lisa on vocals, so it’s still a family affair. And after a 45-minute wait, the packed, largely white and middle-aged crowd was greeted by a mohawked Sly himself, sporting a silver-studded jogging suit. After a warm-up, he launched into “Dance to the Music,” wherein the younger, multiracial band generated some heat even if they weren’t as tight as the ol’ Family. Sly sang and played sporadically, preferring to let the group sing while he played the cheerleader role off to the side. Still, when he was on, for “Sing a Simple Song,” he was in good voice and got on the good foot occasionally. And while he let the group take over for “Everyday People,” he was flashing peace signs and stomping around the stage and into the crowd for “I Want To Take You Higher.” After he excused himself for a pee break, he returned for a sultry version of the non-sing-along “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey,” adding a spacey keys solo before dismissing the band and bidding adieu.

Show time: 30 minutes.

The band quickly reappeared, though, as singer Rick Gordon took Sly’s part on “If You Want Me to Stay” (ha!) before the man himself reemerged, applying his own gritty voice. After he exited again, the band did an even stronger take on “Higher” before getting into a good, funky groove for “Thank You,” whereupon Sly appeared stage-side one last time before vanishing for good. That left the band to keep the momentum going, pouring on the solos with “Everybody Is a Star” and a 15-minute jam on “Luv N’ Haight.” Kind of a strange set list, though: Where’s “Stand!” or “Hot Fun in the Summertime”?

Encore time: 30 minutes.

Decades off the circuit leaves anyone rusty, but was it worth paying a scalper $100? Realistically, what can you expect from an enigma like Sly? One idiot grabbed a mic afterward and demanded “that crackhead” to come back, while Martini defended his boss onstage; an old fan near me noted that he’d never seen Sly onstage for so long. (Via phone, longtime booster Q-Tip later testified for the second show that night, insisting that Sly held the stage longer and stronger.) Truth be known, other stamina-starved r&b legends like Bobby Bland can’t hold the stage for a half-hour nowadays. Maybe that’s why Stone’s evidently planning one-off shows from now on instead of full tours, better allowing him to remain a mystery while still offering strange glimpses of greatness.

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Twin Cinema

The simple act of attending a Tegan and Sara show can generate a lot of guff from judgmental acquaintances; you’d think I was effusively praising the upcoming Spice Girls reunion or—Quelle horreur!—Ani DiFranco. Despite the pitch-perfect emo-pop of their latest, The Con, hating on the Quinn twins seems to be a surprisingly popular pastime. One friend said that he couldn’t hear their name without conjuring a hit from another duo with a very different relationship to lesbianism: T.A.T.U., the Russian popsters responsible for “All the Things She Said.” And you know what? He’s sort of right—listen to the chorus of The Con‘s title track. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Relocate Tegan and Sara to the Continent and they could kick some Eurovision ass.

The line was way down the block for the duo’s Monday-night set at Webster Hall, but everyone had to suffer opening act Northern State before getting to the sweetness. The trio noted that several tracks off their latest album, Can I Keep This Pen?, were produced by Ad-Rock, as if these bratty Beastie Girls needed to remind us who they were ripping off. Their sloppily choreographed hip-hop is simplistic fodder for fans of shitty radio pop who somehow require it encased in a chic Brooklynite veneer. As for me, I’ll take “Sk8er Boi” any day.

The sold-out crowd was clearly waiting for the main attraction and their charmingly asymmetrical haircuts; the diminutive sisters didn’t disappoint. “Dark Come Soon” opened the set, with Tegan evincing a bit of a throaty growl for a minute, part smoker’s growl, part Cobain. (She soon lost it, sadly, as she warmed up.) “So Jealous” came off as the quintessential Tegan and Sara track: Live, the verse recalls a fragile Sinead O’Connor doing “Nothing Compares 2 U” before ripping into the muscular stadium pop-rock the Quinn sisters pull off so well. “Are You Ten Years Ago,” with its quasi-robotic monotone, was a feminine riff on the bleak-but-cheerful synth-pop of the Faint. And the anecdotal banter between songs unfolded in charming—albeit a bit eerie—twinspeak: We learned that the bouncy single “Back in Your Head” was written by Sara in reaction to a school shooting in Montreal (she was happy Tegan was safe, watching Dog the Bounty Hunter in the Mile End). Also, it’s a tad creepy to watch identical twins harmonize on the line “I feel like I wouldn’t like me if I met me.”

The mind-melting moment of the evening, though, came during the band’s encore cover of Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” in which the sisters scraped down to the song’s darker heart with muted guitar arpeggios. Forget distinctions between high and low, mainstream radio and indie cred—pop music can be a beautiful creature, and there isn’t anything guilty about that particular pleasure.

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Rock of Ages

Kid Rock is a Great American, and the Last Superhero of Rock ‘n’ Roll. The Fillmore stop of the Rock Sermon Tour saw the Michigan Messiah mackin’ and profilin’ through a crush of vintage gear and winking red and white candles (perhaps from an East 116th botánica?), conjuring spirits of electric churches past.

We jumped up with the boogie and tried to mellow down easy during the divine country soul of a swath of new
Rock ‘n’ Roll Jesus gems, while our Kid onstage got busy with everything from vocoder to two-turntables-and-a-microphone. The evolving Twisted Brown Trucker band ensured we would survive the hotbox, as their frontman swung through multiple guises: the stoned pimp of “Sugar,” the cocky rocker of (the apt) “So Hott,” an outlaw balladeer on “Only God Knows Why,” and Right Reverend Robert exhorting the crowd to join him in an “Amen.” This latter incarnation was most intriguing—surely so for the bleached blonde dead center in the crush below, who lustily brandished her crutches, anticipating a laying-on of hands. We were taken to the Mountaintop, as new guitarist Marlon Young’s possession by Southern-rock ax angels like recently deceased Hughie Thomasson bridged blessings during the mash-up of “Sweet Home Alabama” and Warren Zevon on “All Summer Long.” Then came Rev. Rock’s interpolation of “Midnight Rider” and David Allen Coe’s “Call Me by My Name” on the ever-majestic “Cowboy.”

Despite a new release shot straight from the eye of Hurricane Katrina, Kid Rock mirrored some fans’ reticence in embracing sonic introspection, tentatively delivering soulful songs like “When U Love Someone.” Like the aforementioned candles, his ruddy “Anglo-Saxon ass” mightily recovers the African powers of warrior god Shango (who harnesses thunder, lightning, and many wives), yet the vulnerable revelator behind these masks still hovers in the wings live. Sho ’nuff, I love Kid Rock: He’s been my favorite artist of the past decade for brave, relentless hard labor in rebirthing this hybrid nation of ours, fearlessly reconciling our African and European selves via twang, beats, and metallic mysteries. And RRJ‘s best is no exception, but brothaman, revelation requires sacrifice.

Upon hearing “Half Your Age,” one feels heartache at what Kid Rock must be suffering. Everyone wants to be loved, not resented or manipulated, for their true nature. Still, while the kiss-off to his personal woes is amusing tabloid sing-along, such songs do not ultimately serve his Muse nor RRJ‘s honoring of Ahmet Ertegun. Compared to what remains his best song, “Picture”—delivered here as bittersweet duet with veteran drummer Stefanie Eulinberg, a/k/a the Woman in the Red Satin Pajamas—this will not cement Kid Rock’s rightful place in the hallowed halls of the House That Miss Rhythm built. One hopes that over the course of this wonderful theater tour, he will unleash daring material like “New Orleans” and truly take the Holy Ghost to the stage.

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Bitchin’ Songs of Faith and Devotion

“They were fucking awesome! Write that down!” barked a dude with potato-chip breath half an inch from my face when he saw me scribbling away during the Donnas’ set at the Highline Ballroom. Normally, his fragrant remark would’ve been poorly received. But I was in complete agreement: The Donnas were all that and a bag of chips.
The Bay Area quartet recently gave the finger to major labels, started their own record company (Purple Feather), and released the aptly titled Bitchin’ —14 tracks of big-hair, arena-worthy, horns-in-the-air rock ’n’ roll. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s perhaps the album they always wanted to make, but their own musical limitations and/or oppressive label heads prevented. Watching them fling their sweaty manes onstage, it became abundantly clear that Bitchin’ isn’t merely a rock album—it’s a gospel album. These four women positively worship rock ’n’ roll. They’re followers of a doctrine founded by Cinderella, Guns N’ Roses, Poison, et al. This is the bread and butter they were raised on—there’s nothing ironic to gawk at, so all you blaspheming dicksticks sporting Warrant T-shirts for shits and giggles can take a hike. Today’s hard-rock landscape is parched (Velvet Revolver blow, okay?), and Bitchin’ detonates a dam.

As refreshing as the Donnas are, there is definitely something methodical about their approach to celebrating rock ’n’ roll. For better or for worse, they unwaveringly honor tradition—from Donna A’s hand-on-hip stance to the almost stoic thunder of their new single “Don’t Wait Up for Me.” Every note of “Wasted,” “Like an Animal,” and “What Do I Have to Do” rang out with aplomb. The stiffness was evident, if unintentional. But there was an unabashed love and fervent desire to share their enthusiasm that mattered more. All you had to do was join the myriad fans pumping their fists in the air in time to the beat while bellowing all the lyrics. And when the Donnas covered Ratt’s “Round and Round,” no one that I could see looked anything less than freakin’ psyched.

A respected rock writer recently opined that Bitchin’ was so much in the vein of Def Leppard and Van Halen, he felt the Donnas were unfortunately straddling parody status. I don’t know if he’s right, but after tonight’s show, I can confidently say that I couldn’t give less of a shit. The Donnas could sit on parody’s face for all I care. Their love of and devotion to rock ’n’ roll is real; their love for and devotion to each other is real. Screw semantics. Come on, feel the noise.

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Learning to Fly Solo

These are the dying days of McCarren Park Pool, Concert Venue, but at least that concrete jungle is going out on a few high notes: This triple bill beneath an almost-full moon was enough to make you forget that your $30 was lining Clear Channel’s coffers.

The maudlin dramaturges of Grizzly Bear started us off, a tad narcotic and with a bit too much musical theater about them. Broken Social Scene overlord Kevin Drew was up next, and you’ve got to feel bad for the wave of anticipation and subsequent disappointment that followed: The crowd obviously expected the familiar, preferably from the band’s 2003 breakout You Forgot It in People. What we got instead was six talented dudes (three of them BSS alumni) sticking to material from Drew’s excellent forthcoming solo album, Spirit If . . . . When the masses started clamoring for the blood of the classics, Brandon Canning had to set them straight: “It’s 2007. There’s a new program. I hope you like it—we could play old songs, but it wouldn’t be as much fun for the people onstage.”

So instead, the band trotted out “Safety Bricks” (which others have noticed sounds suspiciously like Feist’s “Past in Present”), the excellent “F*cked Up Kid” (which slinks a lot like People‘s own “Lover’s Spit”), and the fist-pumping “Back Out on the . . . . ” Drew didn’t hide the fact that we were watching a solo-work-in-progress, whether he was fumbling a verse and reverting to a lyrical cheat sheet (“I’m learnin’ it!”) or looking a bit out of place while Canning unveiled an unreleased, half-written song from his upcoming album. In the spirit of recent nostalgia, though, Drew smartly closed with two slices of his vintage wall o’ sound: the anthemic BSS ripper “Superconnected” and a galloping “Major Label Debut,” which coaxed Feist herself out to sing and bang some tambourine.

Which brings us to the lady of the hour, who opened with “When I Was a Young Girl” before informing everyone that she’d taken a month off touring to grow some raspberries. She played “a country song from Brooklyn” (courtesy of Tony Scherr) and an early, rough-edged version of “Leisure Suite,” recently unearthed and revamped from four-track demos. There were some missteps, at least for the mood: The somber, piano-driven “The Water” dragged down a crowd that just wanted to mushaboom into the night, and “1 2 3 4” sadly came without the A-list backing choir she’d just convened for David Letterman. But Feist proved she can still shred like the ex–hard rocker she is and made a bid for the gospel throne with the encore, the traditional-via–Nina Simone “Sea Lion Woman.” Prediction: Feist will eventually relocate here and, like PJ Harvey before her, write her New York Album. And when she does, we’ll be waiting, with open arms and ecstatic hand claps.

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Fast, Brutal, and Out of Control

Sunday’s Thrashfest supposedly started at 4 p.m., but things didn’t get underway until well after six. Of the nine bands billed, two didn’t show, and the sequencing of those that did left something to be desired. No one seemed to mind, though, as the bar opened at five, giving the 100-strong crowd plenty of time to become sufficiently intoxicated. Furthermore, we had two good reasons to be there: first, the reunion of Virginia’s gun-toting speed-metal forefathers, At War; second, the first New York appearance by Canyon Country, California’s Merciless Death, who unleashed a complete onslaught, fast, brutal, and precise—in short, everything thrash metal should be. Following in a long line of California bands (including Exodus, Dark Angel, and, yes, Slayer), they make you wonder what the hell they’re drinking over there, and whether or not it’s legal.

After a pill-hazed and somewhat awkward set by Bludwulf, At War took the stage with all the subtlety of Ted Nugent singing the national anthem. Their speaker cabinets draped in red, white, and blue—plus a machine gun perched on Dave Stone’s drum kit—the band broke a 15-year-silence here, ripping into a romantic ballad called “Rapechase.” One of the originators of what has become an entire genre you could call “war metal,” the band shares little with the more technical leanings of the sound’s modern purveyors—At War remains locked in 1983, primitive and fast, equal parts Hellhammer and Motörhead. And while his band makes no secret of their allegiance to Lemmy, singer Paul Arnold had to gently remind the crowd that they were “not a cover band,” although two covers, “The Hammer” and “Ace of Spades,” were (weirdly) the highlights of the set.

And then came the headliner, Brooklyn’s Early Man, another band playing uninspired Sabbath rip-offs—an approach that’d be far less annoying if they actually possessed an ounce of Sab heaviness. Sadly, this Iommi-lite stuff is still a trend; these guys should’ve played first or, better yet, not at all.

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Batgirl Returns

Boo, Internet. You are a Karen O costume spoiler. When the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ KO turned up at Webster Hall last Tuesday night looking like a sex-dungeon Batgirl, resplendent in a shiny plastic onesie and bondage leggings, the first thought-bubble over your narrator’s head was: Aw, she just wore that three days ago at Lollapalooza! Ack.

What the Web didn’t spoil, thank god.blogspot.com, is the exuberant magnificence of seeing her in person. This particular show was the first time the triple-Ys had played their hometown since releasing the five-song Is Is last month. Six years after the band’s debut EP, Karen O remains a bad-ass rock creature revered for aerial spitting and microphone-fellating—perhaps the only woman in a decade of zeroes now able to rock a hat-scalped tinsel Cousin It wig and make a roomful of dedicated assholes swoon. And so, when she giddily grinned during the Spider-Man 3–soundtracked opener “Sealings,” all us jaded jerks grinned along. When alarmingly long-haired drummer Brian Chase, Scissorhanded guitarist Nick Zinner, and second-string six-stringer Imaad Wasif all stepped back to let her morph the glib bridge of “Art Star” into a beastly death-metal ROOOOOOOOAAR, everybody understood why. And when Karen mule-kicked an invisible ass to the fugitive pogo-stomp of “Honeybear,” we all secretly wished we owned that imaginary posterior.

Gotta come clean, though. I saw the YYYs at one of those two 100-person Glasslands Gallery shows where Is Is‘s night- vision videos were filmed, so my Webster experience was a little different than, say, the 1,399 of you collapsing into paroxysms of joy every time Karen O sucked her mic head. Glasslands was the live-show equivalent of having dinner with the Virgin Mary; Webster, for me, was more like seeing Her Face on a grilled-cheese sandwich. It was still awe-inspiring, humbling, and moving as all hell, but I’d already seen it on the Internet.

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Running with the Bullshit

Caleb Followill claimed he could kick my ass. Specifically, he sang, “You talkin’ bout my baby/I could flip you upside down and I could mop this place.” This seemed highly doubtful. After all, Caleb was wearing what appeared to be women’s jeans and a vest with nothing underneath it.

Then again, Kings of Leon have always done an amazing job of asserting themselves without necessarily having the goods, and that’s kind of the essence of rock ‘n’ roll. Nothing ironic here: The Southern band of (mostly) brothers favors lyrics almost exclusively about fucking, fighting, and drinking, powered by brawling guitar riffs and locomotive strength. They also have a funny, distinctly glam way of toying with rock conventions of masculinity: In one moment Caleb sang about underage girls, and in the next he was yowling about cross-dressing and erectile dysfunction. “Soft”—their whiskey-dick lament—was played at twice its normal speed, with the band just barely holding onto the reins as it sped happily toward premature ejaculation. All told, the Kings fit almost three albums’ worth of material (all they have, really) into an hour and a half.

So what’s wrong with all that? Rock, corrupted by the effect of big concepts on small minds, already has too many preening voice-of-a-generation poseurs—and not enough bullshit artists. Paradoxically, the greater the Kings’ sonic ambitions become, the less they have to say. In new tunes like “Charmer”—a histrionic vamp that sounds like “Pretty Woman” gone death metal—language falls entirely by the wayside. At Roseland, Caleb pretty much screamed his way through the whole song.

Essentially, the Kings’ new Because of the Times is an experiment in how far the Kings can go fueled by meat-and-potatoes rock traditions, style, and the sheer force of their own presence. More often than not, that’s pretty far. The funny thing about this band is that all the things about them that people deride—the clichés, the arrogance, the simplicity—are the same things others celebrate as classic rock ‘n’ roll brilliance. Caleb is skinny enough to fit somewhere in between.