Killers' flash ain't nothin' but trash

October 19, 2006


  • Touring last year in support of its 5 million-selling debut "Hot Fuss," the Las Vegas quartet the Killers distinguished themselves from the many New Wave of New Wave bands aping the Cure and the Smiths by injecting a campy glam sensibility with roots in the early '70s.

    There was a fair amount of Queen in their mix, and you could hope that, in time, they might approach the musical sophistication, arch irony and cool suavity of Roxy Music. Instead, vocalist Brandon Flowers and his bandmates turned to Bruce Springsteen circa "Born in the U.S.A." for their second album, embracing hollow bombast while trying to position it as "the poetry of the gutter," "the voice of the underbelly" or some such complete and utter hooey.

    It was an odd turn of events, and the two sides of the group made for a schizophrenic experience Tuesday night at the Congress Theatre.

    The band took a stage decorated to evoke a seedy casino on a dark alley off the Strip, playing under a giant, gaudy sign marking it as "Sam's Town," the name of the new album and an old Vegas dive. In terms of their physiques, Flowers and drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. are the everyman schlubs that Rick Nielsen and Bun E. Carlos play in Cheap Trick, while bassist Mark Stoermer and guitarist Dave Keuning are the stand-ins for pretty boys Tom Petersson and Robin Zander.

    But of late, Flowers has inexplicably taken to dressing like Kyle MacLachlan's 10-steps-beyond-sleazy character in "Showgirls." And he seems more absurd than ever, especially because he now fancies himself as some sort of blue-collar Beat poet bard.

    If it seems like this review has dropped an inordinate number of names by way of comparison and focused on image as much as music, it's because the Killers, underneath all the flash and filigree, are a decidedly unoriginal and superficial group. And they are turning their backs on the few things that made them a good (not great) one.

    The pompous and laughable "Sam's Town," "Enterlude" and "When You Were Young" -- the opening salvo of both the new album and Tuesday's show -- were enough to drive a discerning listener running from the venue, especially since the group struggled to overcome horrible sound problems that muddied the vocals, buried the bass in a rolling rumble and turned the high end to painful white noise.

    The sound improved enough to be passable after half a dozen songs, but since the set proper was only 12 songs long, that wasn't saying much. And every time things started to pick up with one of the older, catchier songs from "Hot Fuss" -- "Mr. Brightside" or "Midnight Show" -- the momentum was ruined by something like "Uncle Jonny," another dreadful ditty from "Sam's Town."

    "When everybody else refrained/My uncle Jonny did cocaine," Flowers crooned. "He's convinced himself right in his brain/ That it helps to take away the pain.""

    Gee, Brandon, did you ever think that maybe he was trying to block out something else?