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Cover Story: The Killers

| September 29, 2006

The Killers
Màs Vegas


You have to hand it to Brandon Flowers. The guy certainly knows how to make an entrance. And it’s never exactly what his audience is expecting.

Appearing: 10/17 at Congress Theatre (2135 N. Milwaukee) in Chicago.

Typically, Flowers — a former Las Vegas bellhop who now fronts alterna-scene darlings The Killers — has adopted a stage look that’s every bit as campy and theatrical as his hometown: dress slacks, ruffled lounge-singer-ish shirts, crushed-velvet smoking jackets, complemented by subtle streaks of glam-era eyeliner that somehow made strange symmetrical sense with the whole Rat-Pack-retro look. And with the band’s music itself — all blustery with cheeky guitar riffs and keyboard melodies that recalled the hallowed new wave ’80s, on their five-million-selling ’04 debut Hot Fuss. And with his quirky, emotively-barked vocals bouncing through bubbly hits like “Mr. Brightside,” “Somebody Told Me,” and “All These Things That I’ve Done,” Flowers quickly became pop’s most prominent fop — a darling, well-dressed new dandy for the VH1 set. And that’s most likely the larger-than-life personality fans have come to see, as they begin lining up outside an intimate San Francisco venue that — in a decade-long Thursday-night, usually-Britrock-themed concert series dubbed Popscene — will be hosting the group for a supposedly top-secret anniversary show in a few hours. Peering in the windows, however, the kids are in for a rude-awakening shock.

Inside, soundchecking a set that will feature eight new tracks from a sophomore album, Sam’s Town (Island), there stands a brand-new Brandon. So different, in fact, he’s virtually unrecognizable. Popscene had tried to keep its special guests under hush-hush wraps, but word had gradually leaked over the month since the booking, until the day-of-show line has grown so long, it’s snaking down the street, on around the corner into the next block. Flowers — finishing the trial run — strolls right past this diehard crowd, and is spotted by only a couple of savvy souls, fortunate enough to have glimpsed him at the mic. What’s so different about the man? To start with, he looks leaner, meaner. Maybe even a tad angrier. Gone are all of the schmaltzy Buddy Love trappings, replaced by stovepipe jeans, a faux-lizard skin windbreaker, a vintage Rolling Stones/Some Girls T-shirt, elaborately embroidered cowboy boots, and a sagebrush-rustic moustache (trimmed down from the D’Artagnon goatee he has been sporting in recent photo shoots). No makeup. No funky frills. Just Flowers, with his business-short haircut, getting right down to music-making business. And finally discovering himself in the pointed process.

So when The Killers finally take the stage around midnight — amps and mic stands draped with blinking Christmas lights the group shipped in just for the show — a collective gasp gushes up from the audience. Maybe it’s the tiny nightclub setting. Maybe it’s the chameleonesque Flowers himself. But it feels like some untested quantity, like a previously unknown combo bowing in before a packed house for the very first time. Then the new numbers hit — “Sam’s Town,” “Uncle Jonny,” “Read My Mind,” “Why Do I Keep Counting?,” and initial single “When You Were Young” — and the rift grows wider; it *is, essentially, a whole new Killers. Or at least a stylistically streamlined version for which few folks were prepared, because the Sam’s Town release date was still a full two months away at the time. An experimental warmup gig, true. But the crowd soon warmed to the quartet’s new look, sound.

“We wanted to do a series of secret shows,” explains Flowers, relaxing in the U-shaped lounge of his tour bus. “We wanted to do Vegas, L.A., and San Francisco, and Popscene is the only place we really wanted to do it in S.F. Our old manager was an S.F. man, so we’d come visit him and he’d take us to Popscene nights here when we were making our demos. We didn’t even have a record out yet, but we’d come hang out here. And we never saw any bands — we just came to dance. And it was always an aspiration for us to play here, and a year and a half ago, this is where we played our first Bay Area date ever.” Last night, he adds, the lads kicked off the mini-tour with a Sin City appearance at a dinkier place called The Celebrity. “And we had our lights in actual tumbleweeds, though. But there are no tumbleweeds in San Francisco — they’re a lot easier to find in Vegas.”

More difficult to discern in Nevada? True musical inspiration. Which is perhaps why Flowers set off in spiritual search of it, as Hot Fuss singles went on to earn no less than five prestigious Grammy nominations. As the pressures of overnight stardom began to mount, Flowers began to anchor himself, first by marrying his longtime sweetheart a year ago August 2nd. Then by re-examining his own value system. Raised Mormon, he began attending church more frequently with his missus. Having seen just about everything the “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” mindset had to offer during his bell staff stint (hookers attacking tricks; condom runs for eager-beaver guests; even a few propositions from horny MILFs), he started to question the moral validity of his own surroundings. Lately, he sighs, Vegas has reached a new low: trumping the catalogs of high-priced callgirls hawked on every streetcorner are “these trucks on the strip with billboards on the back of ’em, and the guy’s job is just to drive around and make the billboard seen. And it’s just pictures of women and the phone number to *get these women, just a gigantic moving sex billboard, and it’s crazy.”

As Hot Fuss heated up, its co-creator adds, “We went from Las Vegas, which is already bad enough, where you’ve got flyers for girls, it’s open 24-7, and you can get a bottle of vodka at 5:30 a.m. We went from that, to that with no rules, if that was possible. And that’s kinda how rock and roll is — you go on your bus, you live in your own little world and there’s no police there. It’s part of that constant temptation.” Gradually, Flowers began dressing differently, in a less-Sinatra fashion, until he arrived at his current state of bolo-tied riverboat-gambler chic. “But we’ve got that Wild West in us,” he explains. “So that’s a step in the direction of our dads, our old men. Because that’s what’s in us, really. And I feel really comfortable now — it was difficult the other way. So it all comes back to us finding out where we’re comfortable, and we’re getting there. I grew up poor, and when you start to go places and really listen to people, there’s that mentality that poor people believe in God because they’re hoping that when they die, there’s a better place where they’re not gonna be poor. But I started to look at that, and that’s not why. That’s not why my parents are the way that they are — they really are honest about [their beliefs]. I was brought up religious, so I think that’s been a nice balancing for me.”

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  1. Dermacia says:

    This post, however off-topic it may be, is about Internet freedom. \”Network Neutrality\” — the First Amendment of the Internet — ensures that the public can view the smallest blog just as easily as the largest corporate Web site by preventing Internet companies like AT&T from rigging the playing field for only the highest-paying sites.

    But Internet providers like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast are spending millions of dollars lobbying Congress to gut Net Neutrality. If Congress doesn\’t take action now to implement meaningful Net Neutrality provisions, the future of the Internet is at risk.

    In the end game, only large companies will afford domains if the communications monopolies have their way with this. This of course isnt new news, but its coming to a head and blogs like this one will be a ghosttown unless all of us figure it our pretty darn quick. I wont post any links, but advise that if you value the internet, and blogs likw this one, that you search Google for \”Network Neutrality\” and educate yourself on this issue as it effects all of us.

  2. I adore The Killers they really are among my top rated bands. Though I’ve got to say I found this exquisite mr brightside cover version on Youtube . com just now and y’know I prefer it a lot more than the original release! You ought to see this … The Killers Mr Brightside Cover