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Kings of Leon come back in better shape than ever

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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The last time KIngs of Leon toured North America, it did not end well.

The quartet ended its July 27, 2011 show in Dallas abruptly after frontman Caleb Followill spent the night slurring his words, rambling incoherently and leaving the stage to, he said, vomit. A few days later the group canceled the rest of its North American dates, and after an Australian tour in November went on a nearly year-long hiatus.

"There were a lot of people questioning what our next move was going to be," Followill, 33, notes now.

The good news is that it didn't take Kings of Leon long to get back on the bull -- the "Mechanical Bull," that is. The Grammy Award-winning group, comprised of three brothers and a cousin, got its touring legs back in 2013 with a handful of large-scale festival appearances in the U.S. and a tour of Europe. "Mechanical Bull," KoL's sixth album, debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 following its late September release and was the group's fourth consecutive No. 1 album in the U.K. It also launched the Top 10 rock hit, "Supersoaker."

And the assorted Followills are, not surprisingly, happy to have found their collective footing again.

"I feel like the time off did a ton of good for us," says lead guitarist and cousin Matthew Followill, 29. "Every time we do have time off, when we get back out there it feels exciting again, and fun. So I think it was only positive."

Caleb, the middle of the group's three brothers, concurs that "taking that break was the best thing we could've done. It got us all excited about music again and also got us excited to look back on everything we've accomplished and realize that we're very fortunate to be in this situation that we are."

Caleb acknowledges that that the hiatus was essential to rid himself of some personal demons -- including dealing with the group's sudden ascent to U.S. stardom with its fourth album, the double-platinum "Only By the Night," and the mass popularity generated by the 2008 hits "Sex on Fire" and "Use Somebody."

"At first it felt very strange because I didn't really understand what all was going on," says Caleb, who "kinda took my head out of everything" for a period of time. "I didn't watch television, I didn't get on the Internet or anything. I wanted to jsut completely separate myself form whatever it was that was being said (about him and the band). And in the process I started living, and me and my wife just started enjoying life. We would jsut walk around New York, go on adventures and discover new places, and it was great.

"I read a lot of books and things I hadn't done in a long time because I had been working so hard. After awhile you work so hard that it just becomes a routine and it becomes quite fuzzy and you don't really enjoy the moments you should be enjoying."

That "therapy" led Caleb to move back to Tennessee, where he reconvened with the rest of the band and started writing material for "Mechanical Bull."

"As soon as I got back to Tennessee I started writing," he recalls. "The music was something that was fun again; it felt like it'd been years since I played. I was writing a lot of melodic things and things that too me back to my youth and stuff that was hard for me to play an stuff that made me nervous, but at the same time I'd open my mouth and a lot of the things I was saying were things I'd probably kept pent up for a long time and things I might not have had the confidence to say to anyone else.

"I really used it as therapy to kind of get some stuff off my chest but at the same time continue to challenge myself musically. And whenever we all got back together I just slowly started playing ideas, and I didn't know if anyone would like the ideas but they seemed to like them and it just kind of went from there."

The tour for "Mechanical Bull" will have a lot of new wrinkles for Kings of Leon. Some of the band members are fathers now, and drummer Nathan Followill, 34, jokes that "the back of the buss will be turned into a nursery instead of a nice, luxurious, king-sized bed for daddy." And on stage, the group has put together its most elaborate production yet.

"We have a lot of stuff that we're doing that we've never done before, and we're really pushing ourselves," Caleb says. "We want it to really flow, and...we want it to be a moment. There are bands that have done it from the beginning; you look at Pink Floyd and the things they have always done to even bands like Pearl Jam or U2, that they try to, with each tour they try to make it a little better and make it feel more like a show.

"If people are gonna spend the money to come watch you, you might as well have them leave there thinking it was quite the experience. I'm in no way comparing us or our live show to any of those other acts; I'm just saying i think this is our first tour where we're saying this the beginning of trying to be something special and something different."

And this time, Caleb promises, he's confident the tour will end in a much more satisfactory fashion than KoL's last outing.

"We realize we're fortunate to have accomplished all the things that we have," he acknowledges. "Now I think the next step is to keep going and keep trying to get better as people, and also as a band."

Kings of Leon and Gary Clark, Jr. perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11, at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $29.50-$55.50. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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