The Killers, The Virgins Bayou Music Center May 8, 2013
On a less than steamy May evening, a packed house at Bayou Music Center waited patiently in a temperature more commonly associated with Bonnaroo or Dengue Fever. About 30 minutes later than expected burst another hot entity, Brandon Flowers, and the rest of The Killers. Suddenly the crowd did not care that they were on the verge of dehydration. This band came to please them, and pleased they would be.
Before Flowers and company started their set, New York-based openers The Virgins started right on time. They were less than impressive. Maybe they would sound better in a dingy Manhattan club, which would explain why greats like Sonic Youth, Lou Reed, and Iggy Pop have courted The Virgins as openers in the past.
However, their sound did not translate to a larger venue like Bayou, and mostly seemed like nondescript background music. Their closing song was surely their best, in which I could picture being with friends in the East Village, drinking beers and finding the Virgins interesting. Take them out of that scenery, and they mostly sounded like a strange hybrid between Mark Knopfler and Tom Petty.
However, the crowd was pleasantly appreciative, I speculate because they were seriously amped to see The Killers perform.
The headliners were to start at 9 p.m., but Bayou seemed to be experiencing technical difficulties early in the evening. As mentioned, it was insanely hot inside the complex. There were also some really strange things happening with the sound. Look, feedback is awesome if it is from your boss, or a lover, but hell. It has no place in a show where minimum ticket prices are $55.
All of a sudden, about 30 minutes after nine, the band surged onto the stage. With no introductions, banter, or bullshit, they went straight into what is arguably their best-known song, "Mr. Brightside." For whatever reason, the full floor lights were on the entire time.
I wasn't sure if it was intended as a tongue-in-cheek interpretation of the lyrics, or another glitch. But I, like everyone else in the building, couldn't have given a rat's ass. I got a clear view of the beautiful Flowers, who once graced my Top 10 list (look, we all have them, and they are constantly evolving). The song was fantastic and exactly what a fan wants from a live performance: it sounded very close to the radio edit, but grittier and more infused with pulse. The crowd was ecstatic.
The next songs were accompanied with bitchin' galactic backdrop lighting, apropos since "Spaceman," a fan favorite from Day & Age, was part of this opening set. To be fair, the lighting was impressive the entire evening. Typically this caliber of lighting is not found in medium-sized venues like Bayou, or it's saved for shows where one might find the majority of the crowd on mushrooms. Unfortunately, during "Spaceman," there were more issues with the sound.
Not until around the seventh song, the ever-popular "Human," did it seem like those sound issues were finally resolved. It wouldn't have mattered if they weren't, however, because the crowd was so enthused with everything the band was doing, I'm fairly certain a car could have driven through the room and gone unnoticed.
I have to say, I got where the crowd was coming from. I've always liked The Killers, but I've also always looked on them to be more the type of band that sounds better recorded. Shame on me. Everything was extremely tight, and Flowers' vocals were far better live than I anticipated.
I was especially surprised by how the songs off their newest album, 2012's Battle Born¸ translated to a live show. The album has a decidedly lower-key vibe, and I was concerned this was going to make for a boring concert (we've all been at shows that just simply don't translate). I am happy to report I was wrong.
The interesting thing about seeing The Killers live is that their sound doesn't change much throughout their show, regardless of what they showcase. They played an even mix of songs from all four of their studio albums, but unlike many other bands, with no real discernible difference in sound from one to another. Whereas this might seem like it would be insanely dull, it works for this band, and their fans seem to be as dedicated now as they were after the release of 2004's extremely popular Hot Fuss.
A great moment came when they played "Somebody Told Me," the first song most people heard from the band as they first received radio play back in the mid-2000s. The sound was extra synth-y compared to the album version, leading it to a much darker, dirtier and sexier place than it's been before.
After playing 16 songs during the main set and launching some confetti cannons during "All These Things That I've Done" -- where everyone, including the women's bathroom attendant who had snuck out to listen, was chanting in beautiful unison "I've got soul, but I'm not a soldier" -- the band took a quick break and returned to play a three-song encore. After playing "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine," "When You Were Young," and the new album's title track "Battle Born," the show concluded with Flowers introducing everyone in the band and the Killers taking a heartfelt bow together.
Something about The Killers is different than much of the other rock that came out of the 2000s. They have solid musicality and great lyrics, and can't quite be pigeon-holed into any particular genre. Are they indie? Rock? Synth-pop? The fact that they can put on a two-hour show of songs that all sound somewhat related, yet remain very exciting, and still not answer this question somehow manages to keep them extremely current while not sounding at all different than they did almost ten years ago.
Personal Bias: For whatever reason, I always thought The Killers were more the type of band to enjoy recorded than live, despite knowing they got their cred playing showcases. Two words: my bad. They sound incredible in person.
The Crowd: Mostly guys (and guys who brought their girlfriends), between 25 and 40. The show was PACKED. Most people were really cool.
Overheard In the Crowd: I saw a really hot chick who was probably the worst dancer I have ever witnessed. Was she human? She wasn't dancer. She would be what my boys call a "boner breaker." She made Elaine Benes look like Black Swan.
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Random Notebook Dump: Seriously, Bayou... what the hell is going on with the AC??