As frontman and vocalist Brandon Flowers repeated throughout their set, The Killers came to Boston Calling “by way of glamorous Las Vegas, Nevada,” and much of the glitz and showmanship that makes that city special came with them. Before they even entered, the stage was set with a prominent, light-studded Mars glyph (the symbol for male) in front of Flowers’ microphone, with three smaller Venus counterparts for his backup singers. As if the props weren’t daring enough, the band came onstage, said a few, brief words, then immediately launched into “Mr. Brightside.”
For those unfamiliar with The Killers or “Mr. Brightside,” the song is undoubtedly their biggest hit. It has nearly 500 million plays on Spotify, almost two and half times more than their next most popular song, “Somebody Told Me.” More than that, despite being one of The Killers’ first songs, and debuting in 2004, it is still widely played 14 years later, and is a surefire crowd pleaser. In other words, for them to open with it is an incredibly bold move.
Bold, but effective: It is possible, had they not led with it, many in the audience would have been distracted, wondering when this beloved track would play. By getting it out of the way at the top of the show, The Killers gave themselves breathing room to convince the audience, some of whom may not have listened to them since the mid-2000s, just how many genuine hits the band managed to create. Doubling down, they played “Somebody Told Me” only two songs later. Those concerned by the rate at which they were burning through their hits in an hour-and-a-half-long set needn’t have been worried—The Killers put on a show that reminded the crowd why they listened to the band, and gave them even more reasons to do so.
With a backdrop of stunning visuals often evoking pyramids, the Nevada desert, and the glitz and glam of Vegas, Flowers and his bandmates embodied showmanship at its finest. At one point, Flowers quoted Evel Knievel, saying “people pay their hard-earned money to see the attempt, not the perfect landing.” He even did the necessary pandering to the home crowd, pointing out that, at the time, both the Red Sox and the Celtics were winning their respective games.
However, Flowers truly won the crowd over when he stopped the show to look at the signs a few audience members were holding up. One of these read, “I can drum ‘For Reasons Unknown.’” Taking the young man holding it at his word, Flowers invited him onstage, where true to his word, Nick from Boston (as he was introduced by Flowers) played the song near-perfectly. At the sight of this (at least apparently) random young man playing in front of thousands of people with his heroes, the screams of crowd reached a new height.
Riding the wave of this magnanimous gesture, The Killers kept energy high by playing their catchily nonsensical hit “Human,” and followed that with “The Man,” one of the better songs off of “Wonderful Wonderful,” their latest album. This self-aggrandizing tune was accompanied by images of a kitschy neon cowboy, a striking visual that helped propel the band through the newer track. Next came “Read My Mind,” another perennial favorite. Then Flowers interrupted himself again to ask the audience for permission to play a cover of Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” which he smoothly transitioned into “Free Fallin.’” Petty’s Americana rock felt right at home in the hands of The Killers, their energy perfectly capable of keeping up with the unbridled spirit of the songs.
After a few more songs, the set was over. The Killers closed with “All These Things That I’ve Done,” a anthemic track notable mostly for the legendary refrain, “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier.” Thanking the audience profusely, the band left the stage only to return a few minutes later. For the encore, Flowers ditched his sequined black suit for a full-body, glistening silver outfit very reminiscent of Elvis’ duds—another reference to their Vegas roots, and another callback to the past.
For their encore, The Killers played “The Calling,” then moved right into “When You Were Young,” a quasi-nostalgic song that has, in the 12 years since its release, become a piece of nostalgia for a generation that made up the bulk of the audience (perhaps, as it did for this reporter, conjuring up memories of playing the video game “Rock Band” in their basements and imaging themselves as superstars).
Bands like The Killers, who hit their peaks years ago, face a conundrum when it comes to performing. Do you focus on newer material that feels more relevant to you, despite it not being your most popular work? Or do you allow yourself to slip backwards in time, to the height of your fame, while taking the audience with you? At Boston Calling, The Killers walked that line perfectly. Song after song, they showed the audience how they became famous, and how they’ve retained their fame. With their showmanship, they were able to make their older songs fresh and vibrantly their own, while infusing newer songs with the energy needed to win over an audience perhaps unfamiliar with them. It would be hard not to walk out of that show without a newfound appreciation for The Killers, and what they’re trying to do.
—Staff writer Ethan B. Reichsman can be reached at email@example.com.
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