Thursday, September 16, 2004
 Las Vegas Mercury

The return of the Killers
Homecoming kings: Come see what all the Fuss is about

By Newt Briggs

Despite the fact that the Killers just played live in front of 50,000 shrieking fans at the V Music Festival in Chelmsford, England, drummer Ronnie Vannucci still has one recital left to complete his undergraduate degree in music at UNLV. But Vannucci isn't really thinking about his incomplete education or the Killers' meteoric rise to rock 'n' roll superstardom as he scarfs down a Healthy Choice TV dinner on the band's tour bus before a gig in St. Louis.

"It's a vegetarian burrito and some Mexican-style corn with bell peppers," he says, describing the contents of his microwave entrée. "Wait, this could be chicken. To be honest, I don't know what the hell I'm eating."

It's hard to fault Vannucci for his momentary bewilderment; he and his bandmates really do have a lot on their plates--figuratively if not literally. The day after the St. Louis show, the Killers will appear at the Roxy in Boston, where they will play an MTV2 $2 Bill Concert with fellow phenoms the Secret Machines. After that, it's off to Austin for the filming of PBS' "Austin City Limits," and then on to share a bill with Morrissey, Devo, X and Franz Ferdinand at the KROQ Inland Invasion in Devore, Calif. Finally, the Killers will crash-land at the House of Blues in Las Vegas, where they will play one final American date before jetting off to Europe again. Talk about taking the long way home.

"Vegas is a weird place," says Vannucci, a native Las Vegan and graduate of Western High School. "It's always given off a very arms-crossed, show-me-what-you-can-do type of vibe. I'm not going to say that goes for everybody, but it's definitely the prevailing attitude in town."

If the Killers can't crack Vegas' frosty veneer, no one can. Recently plastered across the cover of New Music Express beneath the headline "America's Hottest New Band," the Killers have achieved an international renown that surpasses even Slaughter--the previous yardstick for local music celebrity. And to think they played their farewell show last November to no more than 300 scenesters at Tramps, the now-defunct gay bar behind the Double Down Saloon.

"We've come a long way," Vannucci says. "It's definitely a different lifestyle. It kind of feels like we're all ingredients in a big soup, and we're constantly getting swirled around and dunked under and mixed with all these different people. We do get to go to a lot of good parties, though."

The band also gets to rub elbows with the creme da la creme of music industry celebs. Vannucci recently stood next to Guns 'N Roses-turned-Velvet Revolver guitarist Slash at a Hives show in L.A. Says Vannucci: "He didn't really say much--maybe something like, `These guys are pretty good, huh?' It was awesome."

The Killers also count among their famous friends Morrissey, who not only influenced their infectiously brooding sound but helped shepherd them into the limelight. In fact, the Killers' last show with Morrissey at the House of Blues in Chicago inspired more fireworks than even the displaced Las Vegans were prepared for. "We were about three songs into our set, and one of the monitors at the front of the stage started smoking," says Vannucci. "Then all of a sudden it just exploded into these huge flames. They were like four feet tall."

Vannucci blames the impromptu inferno on "a surplus of rock" and writes the incident off as "further proof that the Killers really are hot stuff." The pun could be a play on the title of the band's Island Def Jam album, Hot Fuss, which recently went gold in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Or else it's a sly reference to the fact that the Killers were named to Rolling Stone's 2004 "Hot List"--the magazine's annual preview of the entertainment industry's next big things. Or maybe Vannucci's just riffing on the Killers' nouveau-mod style, which is all slim-fit pants and butterfly collars and patent leather shoes and designer socks.

"I've always worn striped socks," Vannucci insists. "We don't have a stylist or anything, but I think it's important to have an aesthetic, you know?"

Bottom line, the Killers' songs are all the rage on both sides of the Atlantic. From the neurotic jerk of "Mr. Brightside" to the angelic reverie of "All These Things That I've Done," the Killers are turning boring, old rock shows into dance-floor riots. At the same time, they're branding Las Vegas with a new musical identity--even if that identity is more rooted in British synth-pop than American guitar rock. "We're not claiming to have any kind of fucking Holy Grail to rock 'n' roll," says Vannucci. "We're just a rock band that writes good pop songs. Is that so hard to believe?"