Tuesday, September 21, 2004
 Las Vegas Review-Journal

The Killers find hometown support

Las Vegas band seems comfortable at House of Blues show


Before the Killers performed at the House of Blues on Sunday, a guy walked onto the stage, introduced himself as Michael Valentine and related a story in front of a sold-out crowd of makeup-ed women in their 20s and young dudes with hair in their eyes.

His story: Not long ago, Valentine was eating with singer and keyboardist Brandon Flowers at Capozzoli's Italian Restaurant. Flowers said he wanted to start a band.

"I said, `Brandon, I too want to start my own rock 'n' roll band. And he said, `Michael, you're a talker. I am a doer.' " They drank some more Pepsi and left.

Flowers then walked out, formed the Killers, and was quickly discovered on the Internet. Now, the Killers are an overnight sensation in Britain, the band's third single, "Somebody Told Me," is No. 3 on Billboard's modern rock chart, and MTV2 is airing a credibility-approving "$2 Bill Concert Series."

Also, on Monday, the Killers joined nine other bands as finalists for the Shortlist Music Prize, one of the most highly regarded music awards in the world for recognizing genre-shaping talent.

So Valentine the talker -- who Flowers sings about in a new CD-single called "The Ballad of Michael Valentine" -- wound up his story and issued the pomp, "Ladies and gentlemen, my friends, the Killers."

For the next 50 minutes, the Killers played songs from the debut album, "Hot Fuss." They rocked "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine," "Mr. Brightside" and "Somebody Told Me." Their music was more college-music friendly than high-school corporate metal.

In other words, they have a rhythm guitarist and not so much a lead guitarist, plus Flowers' keyboards hark back to the 1980s. Flowers doesn't have enough anger in his voice to qualify for anything but intellectual rebellion and resigned lust.

Flowers' keyboards and melodies smelled of the new wave and new romantic era of the 1980s, when bands like the Cure and the Psychedelic Furs emoted with melancholy. But one main difference is that the Killers are punk-free and way more upbeat, although "Smile Like You Mean It" was my favorite. It had the darkest flavor and longest vocals, resembling Echo & the Bunnymen's great "The Killing Moon."

What leads some critics to compare Flowers to the Strokes' singer Julian Casablancas is that Flowers sings notes that sound like flat accidentals, and he has a staccato delivery that is devoid of note sustain. That gives Flowers' vocal inflection a feeling of disaffection.

A moment of mass disaffection: In the song, "All These Things That I've Done," Flowers led fans to chant, "I got soul, but I'm not a soldier." He's reportedly an ex-Mormon, but with America at war, it was hard to tell if he and his fellow Las Vegans were referring to the same political and/or spiritual connotations.

The social relevance of Flowers' disaffection is that it speaks to a youthful disgust with an America at war led by clueless geezers. However, the resonance wasn't as potent as it could have been, since the Killers are also a product of a major record label that is to some degree in cahoots with said clueless geezers. And, besides, Flowers posed and smiled a lot onstage. In the big scheme of things, he would have to represent the happier face of alienation.

The band was wearing suits, too, whereas in their brief past, they would wear bizarre French striped shirts and makeup. Which was truer to their hearts, the Bowie war paint or the GQ monkey suits, or both?

The music was very good. The band seems to have either greatness or very goodness within its grasp. I'm not saying that because the band is local; its members appear to actually have enough musical cohesiveness to warrant advice. Don't break up. Don't believe the press, good or bad. Don't hire "yes" men. Tell the record company "no." Always be able to shut a door and write a new song that doesn't suck.

Flowers' stage presence has bloomed and looks to be growing. Drummer Ronnie Vannucci looked happier than anyone I've seen onstage this year.

And fans were as supportive as could be. "You've all made us feel at home," Flowers said from the stage. A fan to my left saw me writing notes and told me she'd grade the band and Flowers an "A."

"I don't have MTV, so I didn't know what he looked like," she said. "But now that I see him, I definitely want to" sleep with him.