The Killers, Empress Ballroom, Blackpool<br/> CSS, Dingwalls, London

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The Independent Culture

Reviewing the first album by The Killers I wrote, "Hot Fuss is destined to become one of those unifying albums which everyone plays to death." I called it correctly. More correctly, in fact, than I ever dreamed. As well as triple-platinum sales, indie rock minidramas such as "Mr Brightside" and "Smile Like You Mean It" became inescapable daytime radio/indie club/TV trailer staples, the band stormed last summer's big festivals, and were one of the few winners of the Live 8 farce. In terms of American exports to the UK, only the Scissor Sisters outshone them. But surely, enjoyable as they were at first, we've had it to the back teeth with those songs now?

On that point, I couldn't be more wrong. The Sin City, Nevada, quartet have cutely chosen Blackpool - the Las Vegas of Lancashire - to relaunch themselves in the UK, with a one-off Radio 1 gig. The illuminations inside the venue (a stage bedecked with Christmas fairy lights, and lightbulb chandeliers up above) match the celebratory atmosphere. There's a hunger to hear the Killers - to swallow up these songs and roar them back - which is genuinely overwhelming.

How did this band, playing alt-rock influenced by The Cure, Duran Duran, The Smiths, The Cars and The Bunnymen, become the band of choice for this very straight, very normal crowd? Maybe it's to do with identification. Brandon Flowers - normal, Mormon, married, clean cut - has never knowingly said or done anything newsworthy or controversial (last year's stage-managed spat with The Bravery notwithstanding). And when he steps out in a cherry red tux (replacing last year's ice cream pink one) and a Nashville bootlace tie, the audience see themselves. And that's valid: the clean-cut can have poetry in their souls. Somebody has to sing their blues.

There's been a slight creeping in of facial hair - a telltale sign of too much time on the tour bus - but even that is, in Brandon's case at least, neatly trimmed. The same cannot be said for the handlebar-tached Ronnie Vannucci - a hybrid of Keith Moon, Animal from The Muppets and Cheech Marin - who is the nearest thing the Killers have to a stage personality, and who still drums like it's hurting him. Dave Keuning and Mark Stoermer, frizzy hair and lank hair respectively, are perfunctory sidemen. The singer himself admits, disarmingly, that "I need some training in how to talk to audiences". But, with a crowd as partisan as this, it doesn't matter.

Three-quarters of the band's new album, Sam's Town, is showcased tonight. They open with the title track, a Sparks-ish rock operetta with a big, clown-shoed finale which matches the circus-like mood perfectly. "Bones" sounds like a male-fronted Blondie, "Bling (Confession of a King)" recalls U2 circa The Unforgettable Fire, "My List" has a certain gothic grandeur, and, while "Uncle Jonny" is a clumsy anti-cocaine tale, "Read My Mind" ("I pull up to the front of your driveway/With magic soaking my spine...") shows that Flowers can still pull a great lyric out of the bag.

The specifics of these new songs are lost in the sound mix, swirling around the Victorian arches of a venue whose acoustics were not built for rock'n'roll, but the reaction to the familiar favourites - "Somebody Told Me" and "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" in particular - is such that, if I had hairs on the back of my neck, they'd be bristling like a pestered hedgehog. I maintain that the refrain "I've got soul but I'm not a soldier", from "All These Things That I've Done", is a bit silly, but, the way the crowd keep singing it, long after the band have vacated the stage, is quite something. And if they're good enough for Tim Burton (the cinematic genius is present, and will be shooting his first ever pop video for the next Killers single) they're good enough for me.

Meanwhile, in Dingwalls, everyone is glancing around, catching each other's eyes. "Are you here?" the expressions say, "Yes, so am I!" CSS, the Sao Paolo electro-funk sextet whose full name Cansei de Ser Sexy translates as "I'm tired of being sexy", are so painfully hip right now that to even be in the same room as them shoots you to the top of the NHS waiting list for a polythene pelvis replacement. The Brazilians are not the first, nor even the 50th band this century to reference post-punk's dabblings with disco and electronica, but they do it with an untutored, autodidactic exuberance which forces you to accept that there's room for at least one more.

So far, they're primarily known for their anthem "Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above", but their self-titled debut album and their riotous live show prove that they are no one-song wonder. From the Play School reggae of "Alcohol" to the closing "I'm Gonna Be Your J-Lo", CSS show that in addition to the obligatory Slits/Tom Tom Club influences, they can emulate Billy Idol ("Meeting Paris Hilton"), Hole ("Art Bitch"), and the disingenuous cutie-punk of Altered Images ("Patins"); they have a wicked way with a song title ("CSS Suxxx", "Music is My Hot Hot Sex"); and in singer Lovefoxxx they have a frontwoman who combines Peaches attitude with Bjorkish mischief - crowd surfing, making incomprehensible references to Ginger Spice, repeatedly referring to the venue as "Dingleberry!" then cackling to herself.

CSS are a party on a stage, as though some random people - who, crucially, can actually play - have been thrown together and told to funk it up. And that painful hipness? They already have a sharp perspective on such things, mocking fashionistas who live or die according to the whims of i-D magazine, and dropping lyrics like "Alala, alala, I'm so worried/I've got the posh clothing, but I still look ugly..."

Having it both ways has never sounded so good.

s.price@independent.co.uk

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