By Mark Guarino
Question: How can you tell a rock band is from Las Vegas?
Answer: They can turn into a lounge band at the drop of a hat (a Fedora is recommended).
That was the case of the Killers, the Nevada foursome that played a near-capacity Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates Thursday. Four songs into their 90-minute, 20-song set, lead singer Brandon Flowers launched into “My Kind of Town,” the Sinatra standard that not just toasts the city (well, area) Flowers was currently playing, but also provided him the opportunity to sing the word “razzmatazz.” Flowers came through, singing the song in its entirety and with sincerity. Chicago, he said later, was the first song the Killers played outside their hometown.
The Killers are apparently very adept at shifting roles. “Sam’s Town” (Island), the band’s second and most recent album, is positioned to be their U2 moment. It followed “Hot Fuss” (Island), a platinum-selling dance pop debut so likable, it became a phenomenon, cross-pollinating audiences, from frat boys to dancing queens.
Yet Flowers and crew knew career longevity meant making serious statements. In pop music terms that means taking cues from U2. “Sam’s Town” is the result — an album produced by U2’s producers and packaged with black-and-white shots of the band taken by U2’s photographer. With some Joshua Trees in the background in case someone will miss the point.
In concert, the new songs did not share the same sense of paranoia and fun as the old. Flowers, who has since abandoned the manliner and tailored suits in favor of fitted vest, boots and string tie more fit for a Western saloon, has claimed full ownership of being a frontman, leaving synthesizer duties — the main thrust of this band — to faceless auxiliary players. Creating a holy frenzy similar to the Arcade Fire and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, bands that rose up in the Killers’ wake, he bounced his jittery frame across the stage. Songs that tried for deep resonance (“This River is Wild,” “Read My Mind”) ended up sounding more like they were standing in the shadows of Coldplay or U2 or any other band that could pull off self-confessing, soul-purging much better. Subtlety is not a strongpoint of the Killers, they sounded more at home sticking with the flag-waving basics: Choppy guitar riffs, clattering beats and the dark romance of synthesizers.
And, as this being the ultimate Vegas act, confetti flowed freely all night. Early club hits like “Mr. Brightside” and “Somebody Told Me” were automatic winners, songs so perfectly crafted, all the band had to do was to sit inside let them take them to the finish. The Killers demonstrated their true roots during a brief cover session at the encore. Accompanied by just a synthesizer and distorted guitar, Flowers made Frankie Valli’s bobbysoxer staple “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” less of a teenage pledge of fidelity and more of a lonely plea for attention. That bridged to the hard mechanical beats of Joy Division’s “Shadowplay,” demonstrating one more time that love is not just hard, the sound of it is harder.