With an arsenal of songs to send their audience into a frenzy, the Killers’ show at Prudential Center in Newark on Thursday night was a powerful spectacle of sound and vision…and the band started their show with an encore. That’s right.
Lead singer Brandon Flowers walked onstage unassumingly with house lights still turned on, foregoing the usual lights-go-down-crowd-goes-nuts that is the opening of every rock concert anywhere. Once the crowd realized what was possibly going on there was a storm brewing, half exhilaration, half confusion. Positioning himself at a piano at the rear of the stage next to drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr.’s unoccupied kit, with a wry smile, Flowers began to play the soft “Enterlude,” from their 2006 album “Sam’s Town.” Then, one by one, guitarist Dave Keuning, bassist Mark Stoermer, and Vannucci emerged onto the stage taking their places. A backdrop of the Nevada desert, the cover image of their latest album, last year’s triumphant “Battle Born,” at the rear of the stage fell to the ground revealing a huge iron Nevada seal from their home state’s flag, the source of the album’s title. The band exploded into the room literally, with one of their biggest hits, “When You Were Young,” as sparks and fireworks emblazoned the state seal behind them. An encore as a show opener…brilliant.
On the surface, The Killers are the quintessential arena rock band, without any of the negative connotations that might come along with such a label. They have mastered a sound and songwriting with no shortage of catchy hooks, powerful melodies, and a near perfect concoction of rock and pop soundscapes. And with their latest album “Battle Born,” now a heavyweight in their live show, their music has grown into subversive storytelling, grabbing the listener and taking them on a journey. They’ve honed this craft for a decade across their albums and tours.
A taste for the theatrical is no better suited and wielded than by a band from Las Vegas, Nevada, with their homeland’s distinct character a key element to their music. They are to the bright lights and vast desert of Nevada what Bruce Springsteen is to the shore and highway landscapes of working class New Jersey: storytellers. Combine that with lavish, cavernous sounds, a raw energy and excitement, and you have a monster live show, as gripping on the soul and mind as it is on the ears and eyes. “Roy Orbison singing for the lonely” on a back porch in suburban New Jersey is instead, “Elvis singing ‘Don’t be cruel,’” on a drive through the black Nevada desert night.
From that wallop of an opening, the band didn’t slow down from there with their up tempo ode to alien abduction “Spaceman.” Looking like a clean cut Joe Strummer with the charm of a young Elvis, Flowers works the arena relentlessly, so every person in the crowd feels like he is singing to them. Equally, he seems to be relishing this with a genuine cheek to cheek smile that remains throughout most of the night, even as he’s singing some of his hardest notes. He brought the crowd in, professing “Brick City and Sin City are getting together tonight,” before the band played “The Way It Was,” a powerful tale of faltering romance, their first of several songs from their latest album.
In addition to their keyboard-synth signature, Keuning’s understated guitar playing is the lifeblood of these songs in a sense acting almost as a backing vocal track, which makes his well-designed solos stand out even more. Mark Stoermer’s bass has a similar effect, acting more as another layer to the guitar parts than so much as a thumping rhythm section. The heavy handed and swift-fisted pummeling of the drums by Ronnie Vannucci, Jr. provided plenty of rhythm to this colossal sound. This is why The Killers’ sound does not struggle or fall flat at all in concert; these songs sound like they were recorded in an arena on their albums, so they have no trouble filling one to the brim as they did on Thursday night.
The band weaved in and out of their now plentiful canon of songs going from their first album with “Smile Like You Mean It” to their second, “This River Is Wild,” “Bling (Confession of A King),” and a cover of Joy Division they’ve given new life to for several years, “Shadowplay,” complete with a psychedelic green laser display cutting through the crowd. Where their show now goes from lift off to soaring is the inclusion of the anthemic new songs from “Battle Born.” “Miss Atomic Bomb” started with a slow buildup before more fireworks filled the back of the stage after the first verse, followed by “Human,” one of the many times the crowd sang along with little urging needed from Flowers. Stoermer’s bass was gripping yet again with his intro to the group’s first single, “Somebody Told Me,” always a crowd pleaser.
An unanticipated highlight was the band’s take on “I Think We’re Alone Now,” originally a 1960’s hit by Tommy James & the Shondells, which was reintroduced to pop culture by teen artist Tiffany in the 1980’s. Flowers reminded the crowd of both incarnations of the song, and the band returned the song its soul, exorcising its demons of cheesy 80’s one-hit wonderdom. In “For Reasons Unknown,” Flowers took over bass duties while Stoermer played guitar in addition to Keuning, preceded by a clobbering, jazz-infused drum solo by Vannucci.
“A Dustland Fairytale” was previously one of their most ambitious songs, a crescendo of epic storytelling with extreme power. It now has great company with the newest anthems in their set, “Miss Atomic Bomb” and “Runaways,” a song that could have been on “Darkness on the Edge of Town” in an alternate universe, and where Flowers truly seemed to give whatever ounce of energy he had left. Miraculously, there was still more left as they closed their set with “All These Things That I’ve Done,” the crowd singing along the song’s climactic refrain “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier,” without cue from Flowers. After leaving the stage briefly and returning for an encore the band powered through “Change Your Mind” and “This Is Your Life,” before an exhausted Flowers finally pleaded with the crowd, “Is there something else you want from us?” As they closed the evening with “Mr. Brightside,” one of their most beloved songs, the crowd has gotten all they want from The Killers and more on a warm summer New Jersey night in Brick/Sin City.
This leg of The Killers’ tour continues tonight with another show in New Jersey at the Borgata in Atlantic City, in addition to more dates around the US and Canada through September. Details can be found on the band’s website: www.thekillersmusic.com
2. When You Were Young
4. The Way It Was
5. Smile Like You Mean It
6. This River Is Wild
7. Bling (Confession of A King)
8. Shadowplay- Joy Division Cover
9. Miss Atomic Bomb
11. Somebody Told Me
12. I Think We're Alone Now- Tommy James & The Shondells cover
13. For Reasons Unknown
14. From Here On Out
15. A Dustland Fairytale
16. Read My Mind
18. All these Things That I've Done
19. Change Your Mind
20. This Is Your Life
21. Mr. Brightside