Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Killers stage killer comeback in Asheville

Having only performed a handful of times overseas and once in the US since the end of 2009 the Killers made a triumphant return to the stage Thursday for a crowd of around 1100. The Las Vegas quartet stopped at Asheville's The Orange Peel on its way to perform this weekend at Delaware’s Firefly Festival.

Having previously tried and failed to buy tickets online for Smashing Pumpkins' 2007 run at The Peel and the Beastie Boys' 2009 concert, I felt fortunate to score Killers’ tickets given that they rarely, if ever, play the Carolinas. It was also special because Thursday was the first time my husband and I have seen the Killers since stumbling upon the then unknown band performing a late set in one of the smaller tents at Coachella 2004. We'd only been dating a few months and would marry on the way to Coachella the next year. 

I vaguely remember one of the members (singer Brandon Flowers I think) wearing a white blazer and black shirt that looked like something John Travolta wore in “Saturday Night Fever.” This was before the full blown `80s synth resurgence. The band wore nothing as costume-y Thursday. Aside from Flowers’ leather jacket, which he promptly removed after the first song, no one looked too glam. The only set piece hid Flowers’ keyboard - the front of which was a big lightning bolt made of light bulbs in the style of an old-timey sign. It's actually the "E" from the logo of the band's upcoming album "Battle Born," which is due this fall. 

It began with its new single “Runaways.” The crowd sang along even though it’s new. Guitarist Dave Keuning provided ample backing vocals that I never really notice on record. The group then charged into a string of old hits “Somebody Told Me” (which I remember from Coachella as the first one that really caught me) and “Smile Like You Mean It” - another standout from its 2004 debut “Hot Fuss.”

“Spaceman” (from its last full-length “Day & Age”) followed. Monk-like backing vocals signaled 2008’s “This is Your Life.”

Flowers, a father of three looking boyish at 31, worked the stage hopping on and off monitors to momentarily tower above the crowd. He introduced the next song as a new one called “Rising Tide.” It was very much a straight ahead rock song with a chorus that was at once predictable and irresistible. Another new song “Miss Atomic Bomb” (which I heard on Sirius/XM last week) followed. It built slowly highlighting his voice and bridging the Killers’ Springsteenian knack for storytelling with its earlier comparisons to Duran Duran. Near the song's end I swear I heard Keuning referencing the guitar line from “Mr. Brightside,” which made me wonder if this song is the miss to that mister. The titles alone make them an interesting couple.

The band traded instruments for “For Reasons Unknown” with Flowers taking bass and bassist Mark Stoermer adding extra guitar. There was also an additional musician on a couple tracks. 

There were a few surprises in the set. “Bling (Confessions of a King)” (an album track from “Sam’s Town”) and a cover of Joy Division’s Shadowplay” (a single from the Killers' b-sides album “Sawdust”) for instance are quirkier than most of the group’s pop-oriented singles. The latter’s `80s electro drum machine and “doohoohooh” intro was met with surprised elation from the crowd who delighted in singing the "oohs" as Keuning recreated that dark, late `70s/early `80s goth-punk guitar tone.

“Human” brought us back to present day (despite a disco-feeling backbeat) followed by “A Dustland Fairytale” and “Read My Mind.” The momentum built gradually with hit after hit then peaked with the band's biggest hit “Mr. Brightside.” That song never gets old to me despite having become a fixture on alt-rock radio. I think it’s the sense of longing it creates, which is something the Killers (like the bands that inspire its sound) do well.

It followed its best known hit with arguably its most inspiring anthem - “All These Things I’ve Done.” Flowers led the crowd in the gospel-like refrain “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier” with bright white lights adding to the sort of spiritual rock feel of it all.

After the band left the stage for what seemed like quite a lengthy pre-encore break, the crowd began chanting it again. The group finally appeared. “This is a new song,” Flowers said as drummer Ronnie Vannucci (the most animated member of the band besides Flowers) kicked off “Flesh and Bone.”

As if part of a “Saturday Night Live” skit the guy beside me (who sounded like an extra from “The Sopranos”) bellowed: “Oh no, why would you ever play a new song?” His equally loud girlfriend echoed his frustration. “They got like 30 other songs they could play.” I found this annoying and amusing as the whole point of these intimate pre-record release shows is to get fans excited about the upcoming album and it’s not like at 10 years into its career the Killers is a nostalgia act. 

“Flesh and Bone” turned out to be a great song - maybe the best of the four new ones. That didn’t keep him from moaning until “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” (which opens “Hot Fuss”) began a few minutes later.

The show, which had no low points really, ended on a high one in yet another big rock anthem - “When We Were Young.” It served as a reminder that seeing purveyors of such arena-ready pop-rock in a club in a quaint artsy city in the mountains is a treat and a rarity. But because the town is so inviting and The Peel has positioned itself as a venue that can pull it off with what I hear are really nice accommodations, these events are becoming less rare. 

Clips from the Asheville show have surfaced on YouTube (with links above). The sound quality is pretty rough. Here is another from The Firefly Festival.