Photography by Philip Cosores
Who are The Killers? Like, what defines them? What is their thing? They’re popular. There’s definitely that. Even now, 13 years since they released one of the ‘00s most defining albums, 2004’s Hot Fuss, their drawing power is unparalleled. The sweaty, undulating mass that packed in to watch their Friday night headlining set at Lollapalooza was more monster than (wo)man, swallowing the vast patch of land that bridged the Grant Park and Lake Shore stages while springing limbs that crested grassy slopes and concrete staircases. I watched them from above at first, a sea of arms jabbing at the sky as Brandon Flowers regaled his gathered faithful about “a boyfriend who looked like a girlfriend that I had in February of last year.”
Later, I found myself navigating the mass. “This is more crowded than Radiohead,” one fan noted, referring to the band’s headlining slot at this very stage last year. A moment later, his backpack clanged against my face. Onstage, Flower’s strutted the boards in a trim black jacket with sequined lapels as his band resigned themselves to the shadows of the kaleidoscopic lights bathing the stage. He’s very comfortable; charismatic, too. And so handsome. Lights glint off his sequins and I remember the Killers are from Las Vegas. I thought of Wayne Newton, and I asked myself what defined him. Easy. Las Vegas.
Flowers isn’t Newton. He’s not cheesy (unless he’s singing “Human”), but he carries himself like a showman more so than a musician. He croons, he claps, he knows we know the words and uses that to his advantage. He plants a foot atop an amp. He spreads his arms and bellows at the open air. He sits in a spotlight at a grand piano. He is the things we associate with Simon Le Bon, with Bruce Springsteen, with Elton John. He is, like the Killers’ music, one thing that, depending on the light, can also be all things.
What connects the synth-laden pop of “The Way It Was” to “Spaceman”’s arena pomp? Or the starry wistfulness of “When You Were Young” with the Underworld snarl of “Mr. Brightside”? There’s something both comforting and frustrating about The Killers—their songs all sorta sound the same, but they’re also all disconnected, a veritable jukebox of ready-to-please singles.
That opacity lends itself to the set’s visuals, which throughout the set oscillated between Star Wars-style warp speed graphics to glitzy gold flourishes to lasers green, red, and blue. During “A Dustland Fairytale”, a cowboy danced on the screen. You can see how what’s on the screen complements the song, it’s just that it does so in the way a sign reading “Food” complements a chicken liver and vegetable tartare.
This isn’t to say The Killers aren’t a solid live band. They are. Flowers sounds great, the band is on point, and the songs—even the ones the audience doesn’t know—are instantly familiar. But the experience never feels like more than, well, an experience. The songs emerge fully-formed, replicas you can look at for a few minutes before placing them back inside the box. And Flowers is an emcee, guiding us from one exhibit to the next. Meanwhile, the audience looks and nods, growing more and more impatient for “Mr. Brightside” or “Human” or “All These Things That I’ve Done”. Soon, they come. And then they’re gone. And now what?
This phenomenon isn’t exclusive to The Killers, of course. This, more or less, sums up most concerts. The ability to create an impression that extends beyond the bounds of a venue’s walls, I guess, is probably the best way to identify a good show. It’s just that this all becomes more clear at a Killers’ show, if only because the band itself seems so aware of itself as a brand, as a product. That’s not a bad thing; honestly, it’s a sustainable thing, and a good indicator as to why people are still showing up to Killers’ shows in 2017.
So, who are The Killers? The Killers are entertainers. They entertain. Take that how you will.
Somebody Told Me
The Way It Was
Smile Like You Mean It
Bling (Confession of a King)
Shadowplay (Joy Division cover)
Starlight (Muse cover)
For Reasons Unknown
A Dustland Fairytale
Disarm (The Smashing Pumpkins cover)
Read My Mind
All These Things That I’ve Done
This Is Your Life
Shot at the Night
When You Were Young