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The Killers

From Hot Fuss on, the Killers have explored sounds in massively unique waves more than most bands dare to. The dance-y electropop of their debut somehow bled into the Americana vibe of Sam’s Town before traversing the Bowie space fantasy of Day & Age. In their 2012, appropriately titled Battle Born, they finally reached a destination where all of these elements could blissfully coexist. When frontman Brandon Flowers isn’t touting the group as the best thing since the Beatles, he’s putting on a hell of show, though maybe not one massively unique enough to live up to his claim.

Tue., May 14, 8 p.m., 2013

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The Killers

From Hot Fuss on, the Killers have explored sounds in massively unique waves more than most bands dare to. The dance-y electropop of their debut somehow bled into the Americana vibe of Sam’s Town before traversing the Bowie space fantasy of Day & Age. In their 2012, appropriately titled Battle Born, they finally reached a destination where all of these elements could blissfully coexist. When frontman Brandon Flowers isn’t touting the group as the best thing since the Beatles, he’s putting on a hell of show, though maybe not one massively unique enough to live up to his claim.

Sat., May 18, 8 p.m., 2013

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The Killers+Teagan and Sara

As if you haven’t heard of them, the Killers are an American rock band that mixes Britpop sensibilities with the lo-fi fuzz of early aughts indie rock. Their first album, Hot Fuss, made enough of it to launch them to success—“Somebody Told Me” still makes for a popular karaoke pick. On their latest album, Battle Born, Brandon Flowers trades out his New Wave digs for some meaningful crooning and heartland rock. Catch them with Canadian indie pop twins Tegan and Sara opening.

Fri., Dec. 14, 8 p.m., 2012

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Brandon Flowers’s Tentative Bloom

Watching Brandon Flowers play to only 700 people—as he did at Chelsea’s Highline Ballroom recently—is an unnerving experience. We’re used to seeing him flaunting feather shoulder pads or, at the very least, a bespoke suit while fronting the Killers at grand rock caverns like Madison Square Garden. But here, he was in jeans and an ill-fitting vest straight out of the Cherokee gift shop, leading a faceless band through songs from his solo debut, Flamingo. Thing is, Flowers isn’t built for clubs. When he peered into the middle distance at the Highline—neck veins popping, one foot propped up on a monitor—he wasn’t emoting into the heart of an arena. He was just looking past everyone.

When I tell him it was a little odd to see someone treat the Highline like the Garden over the phone a week later, he laughs impishly. “We moved our way up through clubs and theaters in New York, and always got so-so reactions,” he says of the Killers. “But when we got to the Garden, something just happened.” Echoing around hockey arenas, Flowers found his natural mode. Settling into a combination of Bono’s brassiness, Morrissey’s high drama, and Ian Curtis’s spasmodic awkwardness, the singer represents an endangered species in 2010: a genuine arena-ready rock-‘n’-roll deity who, at 29, isn’t yet on blood thinners.

After six years of new-wave-meets-classic-rock hits, the Killers decided to take a break. But Flowers kept going with Flamingo, a self-mythologizing, endearingly out-of-time album filled with songs that are both Killers-esque and also distinctly Killers lite. The Grammy-bait pedigree is rich. Producers include Brendan O’Brien (Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam) and Daniel Lanois (U2). There’s some slide guitar. Flowers cops a Dylan drawl at times. And there’s that song about a historic aboriginal American pilgrimage. Read: serious business. Though the record is more believably grown than his main band’s overblown 2006 Bruce ode Sam’s Town, it’s still a bit heartbreaking to see such a lovable peacock purposefully fading his colors.

On the topic of aging gracefully while retaining his rock panache, Flowers is frank: “I think that’s going to be something that’s really difficult for me, actually. I’m already guilty of reading reviews for this album, and people are saying it’s too adult, too smooth.” The practicing Mormon, husband, and father of two laughs a little. “But I don’t identify with angst. I was a very happy child. My parents stayed together. I was relatively unscathed. I don’t have a real edge. I’m not going to make new age music anytime soon, but I’m definitely embracing adulthood.”

Of course, it wasn’t always this way. In 2006, Flowers infamously relayed his feelings about emo acts like Fall Out Boy to the NME with the following: “There’s a creature inside me that wants to beat all those bands to death.” Now, on Flamingo closer “Swallow It,” he’s giving his loose lips a Deepak Chopra–style pep talk: “Think it through before you open your mouth to talk/Be an advocate of joy.” Talking about his formerly quotable self, Flowers sounds like an AA vet: “I used to have a big mouth, and it’s something I’ve been able to overcome.”

Flowers has promised a return with the Killers next year but, in the meantime, he’s trying to come to grips with the impending contradictions of thirtysomething rock stardom. He’s as cocksure as ever bellowing under bright lights, but decidedly less so when discussing his own place within the pop universe. “Even though it’s not as cool as it used to be, it still stings me that we still haven’t been on the cover of Rolling Stone,” he admits with resigned disappointment. He casually oscillates between chest-beating (“People are finally starting to recognize that we’re not going anywhere”) and caution (“I don’t anticipate ever being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame”), sometimes in the same breath: “I could keep writing great songs but, critically, it just isn’t happening.” Sometimes derided as an uncanny mimic, Flowers could very well be directing his growing pains onto a unique path. “I’ve always struggled with being a rock star,” he says. “I don’t know if I am one or not.”

Brandon Flowers plays Hammerstein Ballroom December 2

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More Nonsensical Digital-Heartland Anthems From The Killers

You can imagine that growing up in Las Vegas would give you wildly distorted and entirely wayward ideas about what the rest of the world is actually like, that you would come to regard the pervasive neon, the garish glitz, the profound seediness, the rampant amorality as totally normal and commonplace—a lurid fantasy world that completely defines your reality. But the Strip is not Main Street. That’s not really the Eiffel Tower, that’s not really Caesar’s Palace, that’s not really New York City, and that’s not really a woman.

This confusion is what makes LV pretty-boys the Killers’ blatant desire to be the Great American Rock Band so fascinating: Their conception of what “Great American” means is plainly ludicrous. (“Rock,” too, come to think of it.) First surfacing in 2004 with Hot Fuss, they began as a delightfully vapid fashionista synth-pop/dance-punk band, but soon betrayed a desperate and all-consuming longing to think Really Deep Thoughts, to transform wine into water, Nevada into Nebraska, all those glittering neon palms into The Joshua Tree. Consider “When You Were Young,” the lead single off 2006’s self-diagnosed concept album Sam’s Town, which deigned to chart “the sad demise of our old-fashioned American values,” as its press materials insisted, which here means incredibly expensive-sounding synth-pop/dance-punk songs about down-and-out blue-collar losers stuck in “two-star towns.” Listen to “Uncle Johnny” at your own risk. The condescension was total, and totally engrossing, and nowhere more so than on “When You Were Young,” wherein frontman Brandon Flowers thundered the line “And sometimes you close your eyes and see the place where you used to live,” with a resoundingly pompous, bombastic, all-caps/boldface/italicized bellow, as though he were Bruce Springsteen reciting the Ten Commandments to a crowd of hundreds of thousands. These guys just want it so bad, to mean something, to speak for us, to ascend to Super Bowl halftime show Voice of a Generation heights. It’s the funniest rock-‘n’-roll song of the past five years and, naturally, quite possibly the best.

So now comes Day & Age, a luxurious, hedonistic epic produced by Stuart Price—he of Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor (i.e. her last good record), plus a fantastic disco-fied remix of early Killers smash “Mr. Brightside”—that boasts the same alluring contradiction: It sounds like approximately $10 million (it’s basically Bottle Service: The Album, and just in time!) but attempts to rhapsodize the downtrodden and penniless. Typical song title: “A Dustland Fairytale.” Typical soul-searching refrain: “Are we human/Or are we dancer?” (?) “We talked about the real things and drove into the fire,” Flowers intones on the ridiculous asexual sex jam “Joy Ride,” and as he awkwardly gyrates about to a torrent of Miami Sound Machine accoutrement (congas, horns, funky bass), you gotta wonder what these guys consider “real things.” His lyrics leap haphazardly from striving-American-heartland clichés (“wishing well,” “hopes and dreams,” “when your chips are down,” “the great beyond”) to botched zen koan/pickup-line nonsense, e.g. “They say the Nile used to run from east to west.”

Of course—and you can’t overemphasize this—it all sounds fantastic, no matter how implausible it gets: Watch in awe as “Are we human/Or are we dancer?” is transformed into one of the year’s prettiest, most rousing choruses, delicate and soaring, grammatically unsound gibberish rendered improbably profound. Any attempt to embellish the synth-guitar-bass-drums foundation, though, meets with near-disaster: The Stax-on-Atlantis horns on “Losing Touch,” the cruise-ship steel drums of “I Can’t Stay,” the Ladysmith Lily-White Mambazo rockapella hiccups that drive “This Is Your Life.” But every tune eventually resolves to another effortlessly delicate/rousing/soaring chorus, belying the eternal wisdom of a band savvy enough to realize that the most important part of U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)” goes “Oh oh-oh oh/Oh oh-oh oh/Oh oh-oh oh/Oh oh-oh oh.”

As further proof, join us now at a sold-out Hammerstein Ballroom on a late October Friday night, the Killers and their rapt, severely inebriated audience a splendid antidote to a week’s worth of CMJ shows full of vanilla-indie yawners way too cool to express enthusiasm of any kind. No, here we can all scream the words to “When You Were Young” together, and that’s just the opener. As I recollect, everyone seemed to hate the rest of Sam’s Town at the time, but tonight those tunes receive the same warm reception as the Hot Fuss hits. A popular activity at Killers shows apparently is for a soused couple to face each other and scream the words jubilantly into each other’s faces, which gets confusing when said words are, like, “Somebody told me/That you had a boyfriend/That looked like a girlfriend/That I had in February of last year,” etc., but, ah, fuck it. For someone whose lyrics (usually) betray such messianic aspirations, Flowers is not a particularly flamboyant frontman, with no particularly theatrical stage moves, unless you count standing on a monitor and thrusting his perfect cheekbones out into the adoring crowd, which I don’t, really. Nice feathers. Anyway, any line, no matter how nonsensical, sounds positively brilliant when shouted by a roomful of people, even the infamous Hot Fuss chorus “I got soul but I’m not a soldier,” which when shouted en masse sounds suspiciously like “I got sold but I’m not sober,” but that fits, too.

Most of the goofier Day & Age tracks the Killers dust off tonight are met with cheerful indifference—I assume all the horns are synthesized until I realize the couple in front of me who’ve been jubilantly screaming lyrics at each other the whole time are just blocking my view of the sax player—but if nothing else, “Human” will join the pantheon, once again justifying this band’s oft-outrageous ambition. The record ends with the seven-minute mini-epic “Goodnight, Travel Well,” a slow-burning ballad that slowly builds to chest-beating, Broadway-climax histrionics. We’re back to Great American Rock Band sermonizing here—”All that stands between the soul’s release is temporary flesh and bone,” etc. You’re not alone if that doesn’t particularly mean anything to you, but what it means is less important than the mere fact that the Killers are trying to make it mean something. We appreciate the effort, that most fundamental of American traits, and that holds true whether you’re from New York City, Detroit, Kansas City, Death Valley, Sam’s Town, or, yes, Vegas.

rharvilla@villagevoice.com

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Black Kids Are Drunk on the Bubbles

On their breakout single, the Killers complained about losing women to girly-man indie boys; poised for fame, frontman Brandon Flowers was perhaps anticipating a backlash and pre-emptively hurling rocks at those effeminate tastemakers who would soon dismiss his band as mainstream pap. Black Kids, who, by virtue of similar industry hype and ’80s influences, might be this year’s Killers, take a less defensive tact: They arrive with “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You,” a lead single and enduring blog fave that finds singer Reggie Youngblood embracing androgyny, referring to himself as “a little girl.”

It’s one of several moments on Partie Traumatic wherein the Kids juggle gender roles and wink at an audience they’re more interested in entertaining than impressing. To this interracial Florida quintet, the twentysomething indie-rock life is a ridiculous free-for-all: a tangle of tingling bodies that should be celebrated with Human League synths, not criticized from afar. As far as eagerly anticipated debuts go, Partie Traumatic is loose and unforced in its extreme eagerness to please. The Kids make no attempts to edit groaner lyrics or hide their obsession with melody. If they worked at Dunkin’ Donuts, they’d fill the jelly ones until they exploded.That pop enthusiasm inspires some unusual new-wave references: The title track features post-ska-era Madness piano accents, while “I’m Making Eyes at You” is likely this decade’s first homage to General Public, though its theory about how make-believe love can be better than the real thing marks the album’s most honest moment. Elsewhere, on tunes like “Hit the Heartbreaks,” Reggie struts through silly lothario fantasies, asserting a confidence expertly undercut by his band’s geeky fervor. He’s drunk on the bubbles, but really, who can blame him?

Black Kids play Santos’ Party House July 25

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Another Robert Pollard Record?!?

It’s September 2027, and you’re authoring a program for the 96-hour “Robert Pollard Flying Party Marathon,” to be held next month in celebration of what would have been Our Hallowed Bob’s 70th birthday. An arduous undertaking: Having spent the last year living, eating, imbibing, and excreting the many and sundry by-products of Guided by Voices, Lexo and the Leapers, the Soft Rock Renegades, and so forth, you’re up for it. Your concerns are tactical, with an eye to placating the armed and ornery Postal Blowfish contingent, limiting the size and expense of the guide itself, and maximizing concession-stand purchases of all-beef franks and Budweiser. Which recordings demand breathless appreciations (e.g., Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department, Bee Thousand, his mid-1990s Matador output)? Which bear highlighting for select nuggets (e.g., Isolation Drills and Universal Truths & Cycles)? Which selections could simply be listed unceremoniously (e.g., Suitcase, Airport 5 in general, Normal Happiness)?

You reach an impasse at the one-two solo punch of Coast to Coast Carpet of Love and Standard Gargoyle Decisions, released in October 2007. The former is stolid but unremarkable, while the latter, though intriguingly rough-and-tumble, is a more accessible shadow of earlier Pollard diversions wherein the erstwhile Fading Captain seemed to cast aside watery-domestic for some harder stuff, à la Kid Marine and Waved Out, about which you’ve already been overly effusive in your praise. Yet there are glad girls skinny-dipping in the bath water. Carpet coughs up the faux-chippy, McCarthyesque “Nicely Now” and the autumnal shrug-chuggery of “Miles Under the Skin,” its pretty, sunny strum gripped by droning keyboards that one could mistake for strings. But Decisions is where the real action almost is: “The Killers” doles out reverse-negative blare props to Brandon Flowers and Ernest Hemingway, joined by the starched-note paranoia of “Don’t Trust Anybody,” the mid-tempo gang-chant “Here Comes Garcia,” and the buff, bludgeoned strut of “Butcher Man,” which Danzig totally should’ve covered before that fatal bench-pressing incident in ’09. So Carpet‘s just another title on the list, Decisions rates a coupla begrudging sentences, and hey, only 29 discs left to go!

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Better Off Dead

There’s a host of guitars that sound like Nissan Sentra engines here, and a desperately confused drummer caught between John Bonham bonzai bluster and Meg White’s dumbstruck austerity. But the thing we’re gonna focus on with regards to the record unfortunately not called Sam’s Ass Cabin is frontman Brandon Flowers: his voice, his lyrics, and even his hairdo if it comes down to that. Words rhymed on this album: “higher,” “wire,” “fire,” and “higher”; “burn” and “turn” (that’s what the world does, see); “refrained,” “cocaine,” “brain,” and (duh) “pain.” Here’s a line of seventh-grade poetry: “The thunder speaks for the sky/And on the cold wet dirt I cry.” Proposed next line: “The tears come out of my eye/In my eye there’s a sty/Why?”

“It was the self-evident phoniness in [his] voice—the oleaginous self-regard, the gooey smear of words, the horrible enunciation.” That’s Greil Marcus. He’s actually talking about Steve Perry and Journey (the biggest-selling one of these bands ever), but it nails Flowers. Dude grows up in one of the most sociologically extreme places in the world (Vegas, baby), and the weak pathos he brings to these songs makes the guy in Fall Out Boy sound like Robert Johnson.

“All These Things That I’ve Done,” off the Killers’ 2004 debut Hot Fuss, is a fine tune, a pageant of sweet riffs and gospel backup that’s the closest these dudes have come to that Boss/Stones/U2 mix they’re clearly going for. But listening to Sam’s Town makes that jammer feel like a happy accident. Songs like “Bones”—with its flourishes of synths, horns, and yes, even that good ol’ choir (dance with them that brung ya, I guess)—bumble around like a bird that flies into your apartment and starts breaking things. Granted, there’s a heart beating somewhere in this album (“We’re gonna make it out!” the chode sings on “Bling [Confessions of a King]”*), but it’s about as poignant as a couple of frat dudes doing 1 a.m. karaoke: ” ‘Cause shtramps like bus/Shbaby bwe were slborn to wun!”

According to the band, this is a concept record, but the sincerity and intelligence behind that assertion can be gleaned in the song-as-intervention “Uncle Jonny”: “Tell us what’s going on/Feels like everything’s wrong. . . If the future is real/Jonny, you’ve got to heal.” Man, the Acid Queen must be turning in her grave. A rock song about a guy named Jonny? Uncle Jonny? Seriously? Homies, just sing about MySpace and that boyfriend that looks like your girlfriend. At least then we’ll believe you.

Also, your hairdo sucks.

*Oh for shit’s sake


The Killers play the Theater at Madison Square Garden October 24 and 25, thegarden.com.

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Mega Huge

What a difference a few years makes. This month the SCISSOR SISTERS have been headlining the Mercury Lounge every Wednesday night under a different name for quasi-secret, hard-to-get-into shows. Not so long ago, they were just another local band hoping for a shot at the big time.

Last Wednesday night, I went to see MEGAPUSSI play with their DJ SAMMY JO, MORNINGWOOD, and SPALDING ROCKWELL. (One week they played as BRIDGET JONES’ DIARRHEA; this week they’re PORTION CONTROL.) JIMMY FALLON, Christian Dior designer HEDI SLIMANE, JARED LETO, FRED SCHNEIDER of the B-52’S, JEFFREY DEITCH, and a couple hundred totally crazed Scissor Sisters fans were treated to an intimate set from a band that now regularly plays in front of 200,000 people. The Sisters are slicker and tighter than they were last year. Singers JAKE SHEARS and ANA MATRONIC really put on a show. They move around. Dance. Make eye contact with the crowd. Introducing “Filthy/Gorgeous,” Matronic told a story about watching a couple in Glastonbury fuck in broad daylight to “that UNDERWORLD song from Trainspotting. You know the one that just goes on and on and on and on,” she joked. And lest you think this is the only band composed largely of gay males totally obsessed with female sexuality, Matronic also explained to the crowd that “megapussi” means “big bag” in Finnish. I didn’t believe it either, but after the show, BABYDADDY showed me a photo of such a bag, with the word “megapussi” emblazoned on the front. They played new tunes that seem to have a country-pop sheen, which the crowd (and my ears) responded well to. For their next album, still very much in the making, don’t expect “Comfortably Numb Part 2.”

The morning of the show, I had breakfast with Shears, who will be known forever and always to me as Jason Sellards, the hyperactive 15-year-old who bounced around the café where I worked in Seattle. He was adorable then and is adorable now. I felt like a greedy voyeur as he dished on Live 8, which the band played a few weeks ago in London, to an audience 1,000 times bigger than the one at the Merc, sharing the stage with PAUL MCCARTNEY, ELTON JOHN, COLDPLAY, and U2.

One of my two favorite stories: Just as the band was about to go on, Shears realized that the conservative all-white outfit he was wearing wasn’t going to work for two reasons: MADONNA and BRANDON FLOWERS.

“I walked out of my room and saw Madonna in front of her dressing room with her African chorus, and we were pretty much wearing the same outfit,” he says. Then, “Five minutes after I see Madonna, I see Brandon Flowers wearing an all-white prom suit!”

Like any self-respecting gay man and rock star, he busted out the sequins and feather boa. “HEATHERETTE two days before had magically sent me a white sleeveless rhinestone housecoat with a huge, crazy collar and a white boa. I found a white top hat lying around.

“But,” he says tipping his hat to Madge, “I have to say we both looked amazing.”

My second favorite story: After their set, who comes running after them to tell them how much she likes them? None other than FAYE “MOMMIE DEAREST” DUNAWAY, who loves them so much she listens to the band every day on the treadmill. Says Shears, “I was just shocked! She was so amazing and sweet.” Oh, did I mention that she came with the SULTAN OF BRUNEI? “He’s a big fan too!” says Shears.

While it’s crazy cool to be onstage during the encore with people like McCartney, MARIAH CAREY (“She was so smiley! She seemed like such a nice lady!”), and GEORGE MICHAEL (“I was totally having a CYNDI LAUPER ‘We Are the World’ moment!”), it was Pink Floyd’s performance that moved him the most. “I watched the whole thing from 15 feet away with all their wives. I was bawling. How could you not?” One thing Shears is not, is comfortably numb.


tromano@villagevoice.com

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Ohio-Bred Pop-Punk Christians More Gallant Than Goofus

“Somebody told me you had a boyfriend who looks like a girlfriend that I had in February of last year,” Brandon Flowers sings in the Killers’ big hit. “I owe it all to the mistake he made back then,” Relient K’s Matthew Thiessen sings on Mmhmm. “I owe it all to my girl’s ex-boyfriend.” The fourth album by these energetic Ohio kids—unknowns to Chingy fans, but golden gods on the Christian pop-punk circuit, a constituency that recently debuted Mmhmm inside the Top 20—is filled with wholesome refractions of alt-culture edge like that. In “I So Hate Consequences” Thiessen spends last night “tearing down every stoplight and stop sign in this town” trying to outrun the traffic cop upstairs; in “More Than Useless” he wonders “why I’m even here at all” before finding reassurance in a keyboard line as crisp as a Communion wafer.

Yet despite the absence of blowjobs and 40-ouncers and black eyeliner (Beelzebub they’ve got), Relient K don’t bland out into mere utility. Thiessen self-flagellates as passionately as any emo infidel, and Matthew Hoopes has mastered the holy trinity of major-label pop-punk guitar: chug, crinkle, and cream. Call ’em Jimmy Eat Right and Sleep Tight.