Photo by Torey Mundkowsky
It would be easy to take the cynical, music-critic approach to reviewing last night’s kick-off concert of The Killers’ fall U.S. tour at the House of Blues in Las Vegas. They boys have made themselves somewhat easy fodder, what with their meteoric rise, direction-shifting, critically confusing sophomore album and mixed reception to the first single, “Human,” from the band’s forthcoming Nov. 25 third album, Day & Age.
But the fact is, Las Vegas’ biggest musical export not named Panic at the Disco put on a terrific performance to a sold-out, energetic crowd on Monday, coming out of the gate strongly with a 90-minute set comprised of 18 songs spanning the band’s career. And as usual, The Killers – Brandon Flowers, Ronnie Vannucci, Dave Keuning and Mark Stoermer for those of you not familiar – made their Vegas show a special event.
Opening band Neon Trees kicked things off with a tight set of glammed-up synth rock that can only be described thusly: Duran Duran covering early U2 with Perry Farrell and Maynard James Keenan’s love child on vocals. Seriously. As good as they were, though, the question must be asked: How did this unsigned band get booked as the only supporting act for The Killers on its first two dates? We’re guessing Neon Trees bassist Branden Campbell had something to do with it – the Bonanza High School graduate played in a few local bands years ago with Vannucci (then again, who didn’t?), including an early lineup of Attaboy Skip.
By the time The Killers took to the HOB stage about 9:30 p.m., the crowd was more than warmed up – these people received the band as if it was bringing water to a desert-stranded party. According to some early arrivers we spoke to, people were lined up outside the venue since the previous night. That’s dedication, though we’re not sure it’s healthy. Either way, from the opening guitar strum of “When You Were Young,” the audience was in full sing-along, jump-along, whatever-along mode. And from the get-go, Flowers – who appears to have shed about 25 pounds from previous public appearances – gave a non-stop, expressive performance, proving that despite his sometimes-weak vocals, he has become a showman par excellence, a long cry from his shy beginnings. He may have worked too hard – the 27-year-old lead singer wasn’t feeling well enough to perform at the Warfield in San Francisco tonight, that show getting postponed to Dec. 12.
Augmented by 23-year-old Ray Suen on guitar, keyboards and violin, the band tore through fan favorites such as “Smile Like You Mean It,” “Somebody Told Me,” “Read My Mind,” “Bones” and “Mr. Brightside.” Local musician Tommy Marth joined the band for a few numbers on saxophone and background vocals, including the new song “Losing Touch,” a ‘70s throwback that sounds something like Bruce Springsteen teaming up with Bob Seger to perform a Jeff Lynne composition.
After a short break following a 14-song set, the band returned for an encore that included “Human” (which, admittedly, sounds much better live than on disc), Joy Division’s “Shadowplay” and the iconic closing number, “All These Things That I’ve Done.” Flowers paid tribute to his home state by singing “Home Means Nevada,” the state song that every elementary schooler learns by rote in the Silver State. It was a touching moment, even when the singer flubbed mid-song and started over.
Between the local loyalty, earnest showmanship and crowd-pleasing tunes, the band can be forgiven its questionable new songs (we didn’t even mention the all-out disco tune, complete with congas, did we?) and sometime-reliance on the crowd to do Flowers’ job. Love them or hate them, The Killers deliver when most needed, and people keep on loving them for it.