Killers’ Brandon Flowers blossoms in solo set

Categories: Chicago Sun-Times

November 24, 2010

By MARK GUARINO | Chicago Sun-Times

Adieu, Siegfried and Roy — Sin City has a new global ambassador. In the very least, Brandon Flowers should get a thank-you card from the Las Vegas Tourism Board. Not only did he emphasize his Vegas roots throughout the three albums he made with the Killers, he returned to the same source material for a recent debut solo album that romanticizes familiar metaphors, such as losing more than your bankroll on Lady Luck’s roulette wheel of life.

Chicago’s Riviera Theatre is far from a stadium, but it felt like one Tuesday night when Flowers performed an hour set of mostly new songs, one cover and a truncated version of “Mr. Brightside,” the massive Killers hit that put the band on the map six years back. Not only was the production design intense (imagine a casino theater with the name “Brandon Flowers” stenciled on the drum platform), but also the performance style felt directed to impact a crowd 10 times the venue’s size. Of course, having a song or two (“Magdalena”) that could double as a European soccer anthem helped the cause.

Dressed in saloonkeeper couture, Flowers sang with a voice so mighty and with a deep vibrato, it required little reverb or masking. The songs on “Flamingo” (Island), his new album, have constructions that both depend on and help deliver those magnificent chops. With a band dutifully providing the embellishments and cresting choruses reminiscent of most 1980’s video synth-pop, songs like “Jilted Lovers & Broken Hearts” and “Was It Something I Said” were comfortably slotted along an actual nugget from that time, a cover of “Bette Davis Eyes,” a 1981 hit for Kim Carnes.

Flowers is a naturally gifted singer but a rigidly tortured performer. His decision to sing without an instrument to hide behind was admirable, but it meant witnessing his need to accompany every movement with a mechanized pose that either telegraphed the lyric at hand or was meant to show how many weeks he practiced human expression in the mirror. He displayed not just a physical resemblance to Tom Cruise, but the frenetic mania was there too.

The touchstone for all of this was obviously “The River”-era Bruce Springsteen. Now only did some songs reach back for inspiration (“Playing With Fire” walked in the footsteps of “Point Blank”) but to introduce “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” (tactually the name of a song), Flowers delivered a folksy soliloquy about growing up in a place that sounded an awful lot like New Jersey. Flamingo Road, Thunder Road — same difference!

By the hour’s end, all that mythology stuff about highways and childhood went bust. It was clubland time, due to “Mr. Brightside,” which Flowers resurrected, thumping beat intact. The crowd was appreciative of the gesture but, for the first time that night, Flowers’ voice disappeared in the jam-packed sound mix and there was nothing to do but shake a little.

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