The Killers are one broken drummer’s wrist away from becoming a Brandon Flowers solo project onstage.
So I half-expected the Las Vegas outfit—down two original members this trek and touring behind their weakest record to date—to arrive at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center half-confident, half-hearted, and looking like a band that’s half-broken up.
Instead, there were times during Wednesday night’s two-hour spectacle that the Killers had never felt more like a band to me. Without founding guitarist Dave Keuning and bassist Mark Stoermer, singer Flowers and drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. picked up the slack and then some in front of 10,000 fans, powering through a 22-song set that mixed the best tracks from last year’s Wonderful Wonderful with the hits that made them one of the biggest success stories in noughties rock.
To begin the show, Flowers dramatically descended a staircase as the band kicked into the new album’s minor-key title track, perching atop a monitor just in time for the song’s bombastic chorus. Though the somber yet uplifting “Wonderful Wonderful” falls relatively flat on record, it packed an incredible punch in person.
Next up was the goofily cocksure first single “The Man,” its tongue-in-cheek braggadocio inspired by Flowers’ well-documented post-fame arrogance. The 36-year-old “USDA-certified lean” frontman was in fine form, strutting around the stage like only the guy who once pronounced his band’s sophomore LP (2006’s Sam’s Town) to be “one of the best albums of the past 20 years” could.
Flowers famously channeled Springsteen on that ambitious record, and while he pulled plenty of Boss moves Wednesday, the key to his showmanship is his ability to blend his rock influences into a persona decidedly his own. “Smile Like You Mean It” oozed with the humor and sadness of prime Morrissey, “All These Things That I’ve Done” proved that he’d meticulously studied Bono’s Rattle and Hum stadium posturing, and “When You Were Young” asserted itself as a contender for the best song Bruce never wrote.
Flowers is such the consummate entertainer that I often had to remind myself of the eight other musicians onstage. The generous Mormon made sure they all had their moments, bowing down to touring bassist Jake Blanton during the groovy breakdown of “Spaceman” and ceding the spotlight to guitarist Ted Sablay for the guitar heroics of Wonderful Wonderful’s “Run for Cover.” As always, Vannucci was an animal on the drumkit and seemed to be enjoying himself more than anyone in the room. (He even snuck in a “Long live the ’Mats” before leaving the stage.) Meanwhile, the trio of female backing vocalists who remained onstage for much of the concert shone on fellow new cut “Rut” and “Andy, You’re a Star,” from the group’s celebrated 2004 debut, Hot Fuss.
“Andy” wasn’t the only time the Killers dug deep into their catalogue. Sam’s Town favorite “This River Is Wild” made an appearance and even got the VH1 Storytellers treatment as Flowers recalled the time his eighth-grade friend called his mother a bitch, a huge no-no he immortalized in the song. The dark, driving Hot Fuss classic “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” was also aired midway through the show, with Flowers exclaiming, “We couldn’t bring you all here and not play ‘Jenny Was a Friend of Mine’!”
“Here” was the biggest venue that the Killers have played in the Twin Cities; their past four visits to the area included three stops at the adjacent Roy Wilkins Auditorium and one at the Northrop. The upgrade to a larger venue was a curious one considering that the band’s star doesn’t shine as bright as it once did, but a welcome promotion since their stage show calls for an arena as much as any band of their generation. They made impressive use of a large triangular projector, high-definition three-panel screen, light-up podiums, and a custom “Saint Paul” water tower, upping the glitz and glamour factor to a level befitting their native Sin City.
After an encore break long enough to fit in three “Skol” chants, the Killers returned for a four-song addendum that included two of the biggest singalongs of the night: “When You Were Young” and “Mr. Brightside.” That one-two closer served as a perfect reminder of the self-assured indie band that everyone in attendance fell in love with a decade ago and will continue to love for as long as Brandon Flowers is front and center.
Critic’s bias: The Killers are a band I’ve grown up with, seeing them at my first festival as a high school sophomore, wearing out my copy of Sam’s Town within a week of its release as a senior, and meeting my wife at their Lollapalooza set in 2009. They mean a whole lot to me.
The opener: Alex Cameron delivered a pleasant set of synthpop tunes, but was completely overshadowed by his saxophonist and “business partner,” Roy Molloy. His contributions on the horns were “an absolute slice,” a phrase that Cameron used no less than three times throughout his half-hour onstage, while Molloy’s between-song stool review (not a medical procedure, but an assessment of the object Cameron was sitting on; it earned a 3.5 out of 5) was hilarious. It’s not often that you see the sax player’s name and face plastered on a solo artist’s banner, but it was certainly well-deserved.
Somebody Told Me
The Way It Was
Run for Cover
I Can’t Stay
Smile Like You Mean It
For Reasons Unknown
Jenny Was a Friend of Mine
This River Is Wild
A Dustland Fairytale
Read My Mind
All These Things That I’ve Done
Runnin’ Out of Luck (Alex Cameron cover, with Cameron and band)
Andy, You're a Star
When You Were Young