If your son or daughter or significant other came home from the Killers concert Thursday night smelling like smoke and looking through dazed eyes, it wasn’t because he or she was out partying. The Las Vegas rockers filled St. Paul’s already-stuffy Roy Wilkins Auditorium with enough explosive pyro and wildly swirling lights to give their hometown Strip a run for its flash.
Where some bands use stage effects artfully like a canvas on which to lay their music, or at least as a clue for when to get excited, the Killers seemed to employ it like a crutch on which to prop up their weaker material. Playing its first show on a tour that heads straight to Lollapalooza in Chicago on Friday, the anthemic quartet -- expanded to a sextet on tour – has always thought and acted more grandiosely than its music proved to be. Thursday’s 110-minute set certainly had its big, climactic parts, but those moments actually seemed to be antecedent to when the lights and pyro were going full-tilt.
As if symbolically, the opening tune “Mr. Brightside” was performed without any stage lighting. The band left on the house lights throughout the entire song, making for legitimately thrilling scene where the nearly sold-out crowd of 4,000 sang and dance along to the hit off the group’s 2004 debut. Similarly, the mid-show highlight “Human” and the pre-encore finale “All These Things That I’ve Done” didn’t offer much in the way of visual glitz -- and didn't need to, especially in the latter case when the crowd lighting up to sing the “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier” refrain. Now that's a classic song.
Conversely, the hyperactive light show could’ve caused a mass seizure in the otherwise lifeless “Miss Atomic Bomb,” and the crazy laser show in the dim, New Wavey encore kick-off “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” only underlined its annoying qualities. All sorts of flash bombs and sparks flew in the closing song “Battle Born,” which sounded like it wanted to be “Baba O’Reilly” but didn’t come close. The title track of the group’s 2012 album, “Battle Born” was one of five songs played off that record, only one of which came off well (“From Here on Out”).
And poor Brandon Flowers. The Killers frontman is actually a pretty terrific singer, so much so it was hard to tell why he complained of throat problems late in the show. He’s an effective if somewhat unintelligible lyricist, too. He just can’t seem to get past his poseur, prefab stage demeanor.
Flowers took the stage wearing a rock-starry leather jacket in August, which (no surprise) he took off right away in the second song. He made the crew drag out his very own piano, too, which he proceeded to only play once in the show – and only for about a minute-long snippet of “Human” before the band played it in full a few songs later.
Flowers also seemed to be physically imitating the singers he was so obviously channeling vocally in certain songs, be it Bono’s dramatic gestures in “Spaceman” or Springsteen’s crowd-rousing tactics in “Runaways.” Thank God he didn’t copy Ian Curtis’s dance moves in the coolly burning cover of Joy Division’s “Shadowplay.” And behind the scenes, he -- or at least his handlers -- pulled a Beyoncé, disallowing photographers into the show and instead only offering “approved” photos from their own shooter. That’s prima-donna stuff.
And boy oh boy, the stage banter. As he strapped on a bass before “For Reasons Unknown,” Flowers smugly uttered, “You know what this means, right?” (Thank God it didn’t mean a bass solo.) Saying that he heard St. Paul has the nickname of “the saintly city” – I’m a native, and I’ve never heard that – he added the obvious: “We come from Sin City and will try not to corrupt you.” He also tried to cozy up to the locals later by delivering about half of “Purple Rain” with Iowan guitarist Dave Keuning (it was good they stopped when they did).
As with many (but not all) concerts at the Roy, poor acoustics also lessened the impact of the show, with the drums often sounding like hollow thuds and some of Keuning’s more dramatic parts lost in echo. But hey, ‘twas no trouble seeing all those flashy stage lights.
Here’s the full set list:
Mr. Brightside / Spaceman / The Way It Was / Smile Like You Mean It / Human (take 1, solo piano snippet) / Bling (Confession of a King) / Shadowplay (Joy Division cover) / Miss Atomic Bomb / Human (take 2, full band) / Somebody Told Me / For Reasons Unknown / From Here on Out / Dustland Fairytale / Purple Rain (snippet) / Read My Mind / Runaways / All These Things That I’ve Done ENCORE: Jenny Was a Friend of Mine / When You Were Young / Battle Born