The Killers - Manchester MEN Arena
So. Maybe I was wrong …
Those of us who are starting to even bore ourselves with our seemingly continual sniping at the drudge and squalor of the ‘alternative’ landscape remind ourselves every now and then not to take our eye off the ball. The stench of regimented, major chord blokedom, the cacophony of lad rock, shows no signs of abatement. Keep those cross-hairs steady, eh ? Your fifty quid, thanks to those nice Gallagher chaps, will, later this year, get you your bi-annual Oasis fix plus the doubtful delights of Kasabian and The Enemy. What ? Show some, say, local loyalty and employ the proven big match talents of The Ting Tings ? Or, if the prospect of female support is simply too much, Noel – Seriously, has that ever happened ? – you could keep it 100% blokey, step the monkey machismo down a level or two and opt for maybe Maximo Park, White Lies, Glasvegas. MGMT maybe ? Right - and I could sell up and move out of cloud cuckoo land.
Time to look again at those who challenge the prevailing monochrome. The Killers appear to offend so many, I default, without pause, to wanting to champion them. Despite my reservations. The major obstacle to doing this, unfortunately, is a distinctly adverse reaction to ‘Sam’s Town’, the second album that sold like overwrought American radio rock was being taken off the shelves, and made them megastars. The trigger for expecting tonight to maybe be a party worth crashing is ‘Day and Age’, a part retread of the synth-pop ‘Hot Fuss’ model and a largely fulfilling exhibition of overt, showy songmanship. It carries some fat, of course, but, boy, it’s surely their best effort to date. When, as it often does, it shimmies with cool disregard for cool, it’s lovably daft and rather fine.
Bulging arenas confirm that people are in it for the long haul whether they’re climbing a Joshua Tree or hunting Ragged Tigers. My erstwhile colleague Matt James was right to call them a ‘Lights, Camera, Action’ band. 19,000 people cram into the MEN Arena. From the moment they pile in with ‘Spacemen’ and exit with a breathless ‘When You Were Young’, The Killers blow the house down. In fact, so utterly beguiling, so very driven, is The Killers’ performance here tonight, it verges on the revelatory.
As the opener fades, a beaming Brandon takes in the bubbling crowd. “Oh, Manchester … this is the life !” Isn’t it just ? Was that a momentary lapse, a delicious peek into what it might actually feel like to step out under those lights and confirm, again, that no matter what the self-doubt might be whispering when it comes calling … they still love me. It’s a delicious tease, a slight angling away from the awkward, robotic front we’ve become used to.
Apart from the odd misfire (‘The World we Live In’ is easily the least compelling moment on the new album, ‘I Can’t Stay’ and b-side ‘Sweet Talk’ bring things down when I’d rather keep the revs high and have my spine tickled by, say, ‘Losing Touch’), the set list is smartly compiled. ‘For Reasons Unknown’, ‘Somebody Told Me’, ‘Smile Like You Mean It’ may bear out the niggling feeling that The Killers best songs are built around killer verses and not so sturdy choruses but they sure as hell get the place bouncing.
And here’s something : the ‘Sam’s Town’ songs fare well. Maybe stripped of their over-cooked setting, given room to breathe, they jettison baggage they couldn’t handle. ‘Bling (Confession of a King)’ blazes a trail for what’s come. When Flowers sings “When I offer you survival, You say it's hard enough to live …” it’s affecting and invigorating at once. The vagaries of his outlook are as they always were, an unspoken sense of frustration and failure, the only chance to run and escape. No names, no faces. These songs sing of small towns and long roads – the kind that only lead out of town. They dust off ‘Read my Mind’ and it zings but it’s a barnstorming ‘This River is Wild’ that stops the heart. There could be nothing or there could be everything in songs like these – the weight of interpretation has made fools of smarter men than me. Showing immeasurable good taste as the song and applause fade away, Flowers runs for the piano and quietly, with no announcement, slips into a beautiful, fragile reading of one of the city’s greatest songs. “Every time I think of you, I get a shot right through into a bolt of blue …” Oh my. The Killers may well be all surface, no feeling, but I’m starting to spot hitherto unseen chinks in that plasticised outer skin. Are we human, indeed.
Performance is all tonight, a team effort of some proportion. Dave Keuning, Ronnie Vannucci and Mark Stoermer choose to focus and support rather than engage the crowd. Keuning may have Richie Sambora chops but he could be in a rehearsal studio such is his fascination with the stage floor. Clearly the lighting guy needs just the one spotlight and tonight Brandon Flowers really does put on a real, proper showy show. It’s less about between-song chat (very little of that) and more about engaging with the music, selling it to a difficult, unforgiving dome. I come to dig how he sashays across the stage like, yes, he owns it but stops well clear of Robbie Williams vulgarity. You won’t see him lean out and cup his hand behind his ear any time soon, I suspect. Whatever, it works, it fits.
Oh, I must mention the t-shirts. There’s a laudable sense of mocking self-awareness in using your two most ridiculed lyrics as t-shirt designs. One has, in big block letters, “I’ve got soul …” on the front. I don’t need to tell you what it says on the back. The other … well, do I even need to say ?
The main set ends with a frankly ridiculous coupling of ‘Mr Brightside’ and ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’, the former a nervy ziggurat, the latter an accumulation of pent-up audience expectation. You couldn’t measure the potential energy that sits just a few seconds before Keuning lets rip with that riff.
Encores of ‘A Dustland Fairytale’ (sensational), ‘Bones’, ‘Jenny Was a Friend of Mine’ and ‘When You Were Young’ seal the deal. Tonight’s show, the last of their European tour, is a genuine performance of both quality and commitment. You’d think their lives depended on it. For such an undeniably rocking event, it might seem disingenuous to backtrack again but consider this : all the sweat in the world can’t conceal an underlying aesthetic of graft, a pointer towards The Killers being assemblers of pop componentry, rather than bearers of a more acceptably worthy lineage. They could well be one of the least rock ‘n’ roll bands around. And I think I’ve come to realise that it’s acceptance of this that lets you cast off your doubts and gets you to an altogether more comfortable position in the debate they engender. I've been in and out with this lot so many times, it's felt at times like doing a critical hokey-cokey. But, for now, I'm most definitely in.