KOL SJP@ Newcastle St James’s Park, May 31 2014

The North East’s most under-utilised music venue swung its doors open for one day only on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Nashville’s finest rock band, Kings of Leon, headlined a mini rock festival boasting a distinctly British undercard. 

Over the years St James’ Park has played host to some of the biggest names in the music industry: from the glut of 80s blockbusters (The Rolling Stones in ‘82, Bruce Springsteen in ’85 and Queen in ’86) to fading stars in the noughties (Bryan Adams ’06 and Rod Stewart ’07). A seven-year hiatus from the music scene, coupled with the growing reputation of the Stadium of Light, was always bound to count against organisers trying to re-establish the ground in the industry.

Picking a band that may have seen their commercial interest peak a few years ago was certainly a risky strategy and one that unfortunately showed in the droves of empty seats. However, those in attendance were treated to an excellent afternoon of rock and a headline act that have mastered their craft.

The afternoon’s marathon was kicked off by Scottish quartet Twin Atlantic, who seemed to have brought a large number of followers over the border. Playing to a swelling crowd, the Scots rumbled through new tune Heart And Soul as well as crowd favourites Make A Beast Of Myself and Free. The decision of a few thousand to start their day early paid off, with TA providing the surprise package of the day and more than justifying their first ever stadium gig.

Next up were shoe-gazing outfit The Horrors, who received a lukewarm reception in comparison to their predecessors. The reception continued throughout the set with bizarre sound levels plaguing the opening couple of tracks.

A larger crowd had filtered through in time for the final warm up act White Lies, who wasted no time in smashing through their modest back catalogue. Farewell To The Fairground and First Time Caller proved to be crowd pleasers but it was Death that seemed to raise the crowd level and the feeling of festivity as pints began to fly and bodies were elevated on to shoulders.

As the day’s blue skies began to darken, the noise reached fever pitch as Caleb and co. appeared for the first time rattling out Supersoaker, Taper Jean Girl and Fans without so much as a break. Jumping through an even spread of all six major albums KoL have rarely sounded better.

To the uneducated the band will forever be labelled as the guys who sing Use Somebody and Sex On Fire, but to the 20-odd thousand belting out every word to every song that couldn’t be further from the truth.

No expensive fireworks or tickertape needed, this was a stadium gig for the music purist. Not that there weren’t noteworthy moments – the melodic Cold Desert seeing the stadium’s Milburn stand spectacularly lit by mobile phones for its entirety. Some of the band’s tracks are written for a stadium crowd such as Pyro and Wait For Me but even the atmospheric Closer was sung with aplomb from the rowdy and beer-soaked standing congregation.

The night culminated with Sex On Fire – a track widely derided by purist KoL fans. But it was interesting to note the band still have enough faith in the song to bring down the curtain on a show of this magnitude. With minimal crowd interaction, Kings Of Leon are happy to let their music do the talking and seemed taken aback with the ferocity with which their songs were belted back.

It remains to be seen just how successful the gig will prove to be financially and in what direction the organisers at SJP will take with future bookings. To truly stand above their neighbours, it may be worth gambling on a grown up audience, calling upon the rock roots of this stadium and appealing to some of the biggest names in the genre. Attempts to pedal pop concerts and an interesting turf war is sure to begin. The future of music in the region is certainly starting to look up either way.

Andy Spoors