Concert Review: The Killers

Hisense Arena, Melbourne, May 6, 2018

You need to be a big band to fill an arena for a concert. To fill it two nights in a row you need to be huge. Three sell out nights… well, you have to be absolutely massive, especially if you’re a rock band in 2018. But that’s exactly what the Killers did over the weekend, filling out Melbourne’s 10,000 capacity Hisense Arena three nights in a row as part of their Wonderful, Wonderful world tour. 

As the crowd of mostly thirty-somethings file into the venue (having endured the tight security that’s seemingly now part of seeing a major concert in Melbourne), Jack Ladder & the Dreamlanders kick off proceedings with a  short set of Nick Cave or The National sounding songs that don’t cut through the crowd chatter at all. It just isn’t the right sound for a night like this.

Next up is Alex Cameron (who incidentally co-write five songs on Wonderful, Wonderful), with a sunnier indie-sound and cheeky faux-ego that is a much better fit. The crowd in particular like Cameron’s “saxophonist and business partner” Roy Molloy (more about him later). They only play five or so songs, but it’s enough that I make a mental note to listen to them later on.

Some party tunes to prime the crowd between Cameron and the main event would have been nice but instead we wait for half an hour before the Killers emerge, with Pink Floyd-ish instrumentals segueing into the brooding ‘Wonderful, Wonderful’. It isn’t the most obvious song for a band like the Killers to open with, but it works, building anticipation and hinting something big is about to happen.

The party starts for real with the next song, ‘The Man’. The Vegas Strip comes to Melbourne as confetti rains down and front-man Brandon Flowers struts around in front of enormous triangular video screens emblazoned with neon cowboys.

It’s all very impressive. This is a no expense spared production, with lasers, pyrotechnics and wall-to-wall video screens filled with images of everything from the Nevada desert to  geometric hearts and even boxer Mike Tyson.

As for the band, Flowers is a magnetic front-man with an incandescent smile and endless stamina marking him out as the rockstar love child of the Energizer bunny and a Vegas showman.

He fist pumps and prances around the stage all night, but it isn’t enough for some around me in GA who seem motionless and disinterested, even during  songs like ‘Somebody Told Me’. It’s no fault of the band. If the Killers playing a Hot Fuss classic isn’t enough to make you at least tap your foot, well sorry but I don’t know what to tell you..

The set has a real ‘Greatest Hits’ feel to it, with 14 singles from across all five studio albums featured. Obviously the new album is well represented, with five songs, but I’m particularly happy to hear a few older favourites of mine: ‘The Way it Was’ from Battle Born and ‘Read My Mind’ and ‘For Reasons Unknown’ from Sam’s Town (still their best album if you ask me).

During the latter a teenage fan from the crowd is invited up on stage to drum. It’s good fun and the crowd love it although I’m going to be selfish here and say I wish they’d got him up for another song instead of one of my favourites.

The main set comes to end with ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ and a giant “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier” singalong as red, white and blue streamers fall down onto the crowd.

A few minutes later Flowers returns to the stage in a gold metallic suit and aviators (it’s like a mashup of George Michael and the Tin Man) for an encore that begins with ‘The Calling’ from Wonderful, Wonderful, a song that recalls the better parts of Queen’s Hot Space.

A cover of Men at Work’s ‘Who Can it be Now?’ is next, with Alex Cameron again returning to stage along with a now shirtless Molloy on saxophone, who for some reason increasingly reminds me of this video. It’s kind of fun, but for a band with much better covers (such as this or this), it does feel out of place in the encore.

Any doubts about the song choice are immediately obliterated the moment ‘When We Were Young’ begins. A pyrotechnic waterfall provides the backdrop as the crowd scream out the words before the arena lights up with lasers for—what else—‘Mr Brightside’. That one even manages to jolt the most comatose punters around me into life.

Flowers disappears into the night (it’s all a bit ‘Elvis has left the building’), leaving the last word to drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr (the only other original band member touring these days), who delivers a volley of drumsticks into the crowd—or as he calls them, “flowers”, this being the “third date” with Melbourne. All that’s left then is the now-traditional closing message: “oh… and remember to tell all your friends”.

With that, the house lights come up, a floor ankle-deep in confetti and streamers the only thing left behind from one of the greatest arena rock acts in the 21st century.

Setlist

Wonderful Wonderful
The Man
Somebody Told Me
Spaceman
The Way It Was
Shot at the Night
Run for Cover
I Can’t Stay
Smile Like You Mean It
For Reasons Unknown
Human
Tyson vs. Douglas
A Dustland Fairytale
Be Still
Runaways
Read My Mind
All These Things That I’ve Done
The Calling
Who Can It Be Now (Men at Work cover)
When You Were Young
Mr. Brightside

Concert Review: The Killers, Studio Coast, Tokyo

Studio Coast, Tokyo, October 9, 2013

What does it mean when you are in a city of 25 million people, can’t get tickets to a concert, but then miraculously run into the one person that’s willing to put you on the guest list for free? Divine intervention? No. Sheer coincidence? Brain says yes, but I’m not so sure. Fate? Maybe.

Either way, that is exactly how my partner and I ended up seeing the Killers play at Tokyo’s Studio Coast venue earlier this month. We had left Australia for Japan eager to catch one of the band’s two Tokyo shows, but had given up after finding the Japanese-language ticket vending machines an insurmountable barrier for a pair of monolingual Aussies.

The Killers
Put your hands up if you’re having a good time

After our unsuccessful efforts, we put the Killers show into the ‘too hard basket’ and made plans to instead watch the Yomiuri Giants game after an afternoon visiting the Meji Shrine in Shibuya. At the shrine we decided it would be a nice memento to get a photo of the pair of us, and so my partner picked out a woman who seemed fit for the job (there’s an unwritten criteria in this situation… do they look like a lunatic? will they steal my camera? do they look like they’ll understand me?).

Not only was she not a lunatic, didn’t nick our camera, and did understand us, she was also the mother of Ronnie Vannucci Jr – the drummer for the Killers.  Obviously at first we had no idea, but we soon got talking and learned she had gone to school in Brisbane and gone on to work for Ansett before spending most of her life in Las Vegas.A couple of Las Vegas / Bris Vegas jokes later and she told us who she was and asked if we wanted to see the Killers that night? She took our names, told us that we would be on the guest list, and then disappeared, leaving us a bit stunned to say the least.

The Killers
He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus at all really

Still a bit skeptical about it all (you’ve got to admit it did seem like a million-to-one long shot), we nonetheless made our way to the Studio Coast venue at around 5:30. And yes, I did say 5:30. You see, the Japanese do concerts a little differently. When they say that doors open at 6 and the show starts at 7, they mean that the doors open at 6 (as in, literally 6:00pm and zero seconds) and the show starts at 7 (well, plus the few minutes it takes to coax lazy Western bands onto the stage…).

We lined up at a door that seemed to be the ‘guest list’ entry (who knows really – everything was in Japanese) and waited. Sure enough, at 6pm sharp the doors open, and the fans began to file into the venue through the main entrance. Meanwhile at the guest list entry (or whatever it was), our moment of truth came. Sure enough, Ronnie Vannucci’s mother had struck true to her word and we were on the guest list. We went inside and were directed through a door that said ‘Staff Only’ up into a small balcony off to the right of the venue.

There was no support act – pre-gig entertainment instead coming from the sounds of Tom Petty and Jackson Browne wafting out into the abyss from the PA system. The mostly Japanese crowd waited patiently, occasionally breaking out in polite applause in anticipation of the show. Killers T-shirts were dotted through-out the audience, as was the occasional curious westerner.

The Killers
When it’s not hosting bands like the Killers, Studio Coast serves as a nightclub called AgeHa

A touch after 7pm the Killers came on, and suddenly this chilled-out, previously reserved crowd absolutely exploded. To the strains of ‘Mr Brightside’ every single audience member suddenly started pumping their firsts into the air like pistons, demonstrating a level of choreography not seen since Queen’s ‘Radio Ga Ga’ video clip. It was something else – and they continued, unabated until the final note.

This was the third time I had seen the Killers, and the band delivered the goods yet again. After a decade in the game, Brandon Flowers has his front-man act down to a fine art, projecting a perfect facsimile of his studio voice alongside a stage presence that hints at Springsteen. The rest of the band are musically very effective, but also largely anonymous, mostly staying out of the spotlight and concentrating on sewing the sonic tapestry required for Flowers to do his thing.

The night’s setlist is not too far removed from that which Australian audiences (including myself) were treated to earlier this year at Big Day Out. A heavy emphasis on hits was punctuated by a trio of tracks from their latest album, Battle Born. The liberal dose of hits is no surprise given the imminent release of the group’s Direct Hits best of package, and fans lapped up the opportunity to enjoy the likes of ‘Somebody Told Me’ and ‘When We Were Young’ in all their glory.

The Killers
Mr Brightside himself

While the show itself was as great as the other times I’ve seen the Killers, what took this one into the atmosphere was the raw energy emanating out from the Japanese crowd. They absolutely lapped up Flowers’ efforts at Japanese, and went into overdrive during ‘Read My Mind’. During that song Flowers called up a fan onto the stage dressed in a Gachapin ‘onesie’ and danced and sung with him. Killers tragics will of course recall Gachapin as the Japanese cartoon character featured in the video clip for the same song.

With their greatest hits record just weeks away from release, the Killers showed Tokyo exactly how good the first decade of their career has been. For their part, the Japanese fans showed the Killers – and this impressed Westerner – how energetic and enthusiastic they are about live music. Australia – you’ve got a tough act to match!

Setlist

Mr. Brightside
Spaceman
The Way It Was
Smile Like You Mean It
Bling (Confession of a King)
Shadowplay
Human
Somebody Told Me
For Reasons Unknown
From Here On Out
A Dustland Fairytale
Read My Mind
Runaways
All These Things That I’ve Done
Jenny Was a Friend of Mine
When You Were Young