People leave gigs early for many reasons: nicotine withdrawal, trains, the high cost of babysitters. And having lost fluids and a few personal items cavorting around to a full-on rendition of Mr Brightside tonight, Killers fans could be forgiven for thinking that, with the band’s signature tune out of the way, there couldn’t be much left to see in the encore…
Not many bands would think of this venue as intimate. But the Las Vegas outfit are warming up – sort of – for a colossal November run through UK arenas: that’s 14 of them, all sold out. The faithful have already been given a rare airing of Andy, You’re a Star, which singer Brandon Flowers says the Killers haven’t played live for 11 years. It is a little incongruous, hearing a relatively underfed early song flushed with the girth of the Killers’ success. If anything, tonight’s set suffers a touch from this oversaturation and Brixton’s muddy sound. Songs that should sound lean and hungry sound sated and portly (the indie disco thrash of Somebody Told Me). Everything has an epic lean. It’s a small gripe – the Killers’ cover of Joy Division’s Shadowplay still manages a little minimalism – but light and shade are perhaps sacrificed to the mistaken belief that the Killers have to pile anthem upon anthem.
They have them, of course. Mr Brightside unleashes a collective frenzy in both crowd and band, as glorious a treatment of sexual jealousy as you could wish for. Flowers paces the stage, whipped into a state, channelling his narrator’s nauseated misery, as animated as he has been all evening.
The band then stalk off for an agonisingly long time. A lot of people need to pee: Flowers, whose keyboard is bedecked with a light-up neon pink male symbol, probably a reference to their recent single, The Man; drummer Ronnie Vannucci, and guitarist Ted Sablay (a longtime associate, filling in for the absent Dave Keuning). Then there’s bassist Jake Blanton (filling in for bassist Mark Stoermer, who has retired from touring), multi-instrumentalist Taylor Milne, and three backing vocalists, who stand behind neon female symbols, adding a classy coo to proceedings.
People stream out. Then suddenly, “The illustrious, praiseworthy Dr Woody Harrelson” is on stage, and introducing a brand new Killers song, The Calling, on its live debut. Like a river suddenly reversing its course, people stream back. In his mesmeric drawl, the gangly Harrelson quotes electrically from the Bible – Matthew 9:11 – where Jesus sits down to eat with “publicans and senators” (sinners, in short). The actor does this very reading on the new Killers album, Wonderful Wonderful – the band’s fifth, due out on 22 September. Happily, kismet found Harrelson in London this week. He turns what has been a solid enough Killers gig, full of hits and Andy, into a much more memorable one.
The Calling, too, is striking. It’s not a Bruce Springsteen tribute, one of the Killers’ favourite modes since 2006’s Sam’s Town. Instead, it packs a sleazy, Depeche Mode swing. Flowers, though, is singing about having “the last two chapters of Matthew in my hand”. The band have long bounced between faith – Flowers is a Mormon – and their formative experiences in Vegas: Sin City, as it’s known. Pretty much all of human nature lies in between, so it’s fertile ground. “Lean into the light,” urges Flowers here, as Vannucci thumps like a caveman.
The new album is set to be a departure for the Killers, not least because of the decision of two founding members not to tour (it’s weird not seeing the right faces on stage). Flowers has put his storytelling bent on hold to write more personal songs. Many of them are about his wife and her struggles with PTSD linked to a complicated upbringing.
The Killers opened the gig with two Wonderful Wonderful songs, although not necessarily ones that are about her. Run for Cover does the Springsteen thing persuasively enough, spooling out American heartland pop about “played-out-traps”.
But The Man is different again, and as good a song as the Killers have written in some time. A strutting pastiche of masculinity, it borrows from David Bowie – a clever wink, as the artist was not known for his aggressive manliness – and, unexpectedly, sounds a little like Arcade Fire. Best of all, it gives the Killers lashings of funk.