15 Years Later, The Killers Are Still Looking On The Brightside Of Life
They came out on the stage, and they did just fine.
“YOU’RE NOT THE KILLERS!”
A voice rings out from the stage-left side of Qudos Bank Arena just after 8pm, as tonight’s opening act tries to speak to the crowd. It’s the classic case of thinking supports are actively trying to keep you from seeing the headliner, as if allocated times aren’t given out in advance. Captain Obvious is right, though — right now, that’s Jack Ladder and “some of” The Dreamlanders (bassist Donny Benet is on a solo tour, while guitarist Kirin J Callinan is currently in exile).
Ladder and co. were handpicked by tonight’s headliners to share some of the spotlight of a massive arena show — and it’s certainly a far cry from the inner-city bars they’ve grown accustomed to over the years. Although it’s a brisk 20 minute set, they still get their slick, icy new-wave across the line. No, they’re not The Killers. That’s the point.
Not 15 minutes later, a folk hero is born to the gig-a-year normies of Sydney. His name: Roy Molloy, saxophonist and “business partner” of main support Alex Cameron. Although a supergroup flanks Cameron — Ladder’s back on guitar, PVT’s Laurence Pike’s on percussion, Bridezilla alum Holiday Sidewinder sings and plays keys — there’s a certifiable eruption every time Molloy is introduced for his sax part. Before too long, more chants of “ROY, ROY, ROY!” breaks out.
While other acts are dwarfed by an arena stage, Cameron and co eclipse it.
As the lights go down and the curtain drops away, the elaborate staging for the show reveals itself. In case you hadn’t gathered, we’re here for a show. Not a plug-in-and-play gig, like you might have seen when the band played The Metro back in 2013 — no, this is every whistle and bell imaginable. Don’t believe it? The second song of the night, ‘The Man’, has confetti cannons. It’s party time, and we’re not leaving until curfew says we legally have to.
The current live ensemble of The Killers is nine people strong. The three backing vocalists pack a punch, adding a little extra flair to songs you wouldn’t normally expect to stand out, like Battle Born ballad ‘The Way It Was’ or Wonderful Wonderful‘s ‘Rut’.
“When [Flowers] drops off the mic during ‘Spaceman’ and ‘Runaways’, he exudes the confidence that can only come with knowing you have 17,000 backing vocalists at your disposal”
Meanwhile, southpaw shredder Ted Sablay is right at home on a massive stage, feeling less like a fill-in and more a vital part of the operation. Although all four original members are still in the band, two are off the road pursuing family life and other projects. No disrespect to either Mark Stoermer (bass) or Dave Keuning (guitar), but if one had to call a “better half” of The Killers, it’s the one that’s on the road.
Ronnie Vanucci, Jr. is relentless behind the kit — you never realise how technical and intense ‘Somebody Told Me’ is on the skins, for instance, until you’re watching him come down on the drums like a tonne of bricks.
Brandon Flowers, meanwhile, very clearly has the whole Pharrell/Rob Lowe thing going on in that he doesn’t appear to have aged in the last 15 years. He’s pure charisma and swagger, drawing equally from the church preacher as he is your Mick Jaggers and Simon Le Bons. When he drops off the mic during ‘Spaceman’ and ‘Runaways’, he exudes the confidence that can only come with knowing you have 17,000 backing vocalists at your disposal.
Somehow, someway, things get even crazier when the encore arrives. Out of nowhere, Flowers introduces The Vines’ Craig Nicholls — who hasn’t been seen performing in over a year — for a blistering ‘Get Free’. It’s the ultimate 2000s indie kid fantasy — if they’d have then brought out Alex Kapranos for ‘Take Me Out’, the universe may have imploded. Nicholls stuck around to joyously dance around and sing backing vocals for ‘When You Were Young’, tumbling down the stairs set up in the middle of the stage like it was 2002 all over again.
That’s when it hits — the guitar picks out its C# major arpeggio, the hi-hats hit the 16ths and the entire arena promptly comes the fuck out of its cage. ‘Mr. Brightside’, as exemplified by videos like the Irish pub sing-along and the footage from Glastonbury 2017, is kind of on the same anthemic level as ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. Much like that song, most couldn’t really tell you what the whole thing’s really about — but you’ll be damned if it doesn’t feel good to scream at the top of your lungs.
An evening with The Killers is affirming, invigorating and inspiring. They’ve survived every passing trend, fad and revival — all that’s left to do is pick dancer over human.
David James Young is a writer and podcaster. Tweet him @DJYwrites.
The Killers photos by Rob Loud