It was always clear that the Killers were inspired by the British alt-pop groups of the 1980s: Smiths, Bunnymen, Duran Duran, Cure. What I never expected was for them to turn into U2, but with second album Sam's Town that's exactly what they did: grow beards, whack up the reverb, sing about Jesus and get Anton Corbijn to take the photos.
Following this logic, it looks as if they're hitting their Zoo TV phase. The Royal Albert Hall now counts as an intimate, boutique gig for the Killers, an index of their ascent. "This place is too pretty for us," Brandon Flowers disingenuously says, from a stage decked out in fairy lights and plastic palm trees, like the Sahara Hotel in their Las Vegas hometown. The beards, thankfully, have gone.
However, Brandon is no Bono, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. If he were, his keyboard would be hidden not behind a giant silver letter K, but a giant silver B. Unusually for a rock star, Brandon Flowers is a quiet, private type with conservative views and leanings towards abstinence. On stage, where it counts, he's got what it takes to do the job.
This show, opening with new single "Human", is a Radio 1 gig to launch their third studio album, Day & Age. It's the successor to the motorist rock of Sam's Town, a record that left me cold but sold in its millions to Jeremy Clarkson viewers and Nuts readers. Hot Fuss was, and remains, one of this decade's most assured debuts, and gratifyingly, the three-note synth motif from "Smile Like You Mean It" is the first thing that really rattles those inverted mushrooms on the RAH roof.
Of the new material, the drama-pop of "Spaceman" stands out, as does "Losing Touch", driven by big, chunky power chords and Roxy sax. Best of all is the Duranny white funk of "Joy Ride", which whets the appetite for the Stuart Price-produced studio version, suggesting that while Day & Age may have its share of filler, there'll be more than one killer.
Twenty past 10 on a Sunday night, and someone finally says, "Mark's in the building." For the past hour, a VJ called Sniper has entertained fans with a distorted scratch video mash-up. Once again, he's waiting for the man. No Mark E Smith, no the Fall.
In the 32 years since the Fall – "Northern white crap that talks back", to quote their most famous lyric – formed amid the post-industrial decay of 1970s Manchester, they've shed more members than some bands acquire fans. Dave Simpson's extraordinary book The Fallen counts 45, but there have been more since it was completed. As Smith himself says on the dust jacket, "If it's me and yer granny on bongos, it's the Fall."
He's right. The Fall are as much an aesthetic standpoint as a band. Tonight it's him, his wife Elena Poulou on keyboards, plus Pete Greenway on guitar, and a couple of youngish suedeheads, Dave Spurr on bass and Keiron Melling on drums, who pack an appropriately muscular punch. This is the essential element of the Fall's primal rock'n'roll rumble: for all their locked Krautrock grooves and disjointed angularity, there's a case to be made that the Fall have always been, fundamentally, a rockabilly band.
Ominously, the band first appears without Smith, the vocals on the first track taken by actor Nick Mason, best known as one of the Happy Mondays in 24 Hour Party People. Then, out he wanders, an odd chap with greasy hair and a black leather coat, looking a lot like one of those little old men who hang around the bookies all day. His default expression is a shrewd, appraising stare, half-pout, half-squint, that exudes, in Simon Reynolds' brilliant phrase, "wizened insolence".
This is my first Fall gig in 15 years, and they're just how I left them: forbidding but inclusive, cerebral and physical, serious and ridiculous. Tonight's sub-60 minute set is dominated by the album Imperial Wax Solvent. There's a theory that whichever Fall album you happen to hear first will be your favourite. For those whose initiation coincided with the Fall's early 1980s prime, there's "Wings". For me it was 1988's The Frenz Experiment, from which tonight we get the absurdist classic "Carry Bag Man", the final choruses of which are sung by the audience, after Elena throws them the singer's abandoned mic. Mark E Smith has left the building.