The Killers, 02 Arena, London

Flowers' powers put to the test

John Hall
Wednesday 25 February 2009 01:00

Neither pouting in guyliner nor resplendent in a pink feather boa, the average Killers fan is a much changed beast these days.

Seen by many as more vacuous than Coldplay, more pompous than Razorlight, more self-consumed than U2, The Killers somehow find themselves the musical preserve of middle-Britain. If, as The Killers sing in Spaceman, aliens were to visit tonight, they’d find the O2 a Petri dish teeming with all walks of British life.

It wasn’t always like this. When The Killers first strutted onto the scene in 2004 they were hailed by many as the definitive indie-dance crossover band. Playing their hook-heavy pop and looking like The Strokes dandyish, less contagious cousins, they snared the nation’s teenagers, fast becoming the soundtrack to every student clubnight in the country.

Flirtations with facial hair and Bruce Springsteen on second album Sam’s Town ensured The Killers soon lost their ‘yoof appeal’, but it was only in November with the release of third album Day and Age, that the band made their final assault on the mainstream. They probably picked up 75 per cent of tonight’s audience in the process.

Kicking off their set with a volley of glitzy singles (Spaceman, Somebody Told Me, Smile Like You Mean It), The Killers electrify the O2 from the off. The sound is awesome, the perfect mix of stadium professionalism and punky spontaneity.

In contradiction with their effete image, drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr hits harder than most, forcing the whole band to play to their limits. It's a wonderful technique and single-handedly prevents The Killers from falling into the mid-paced monotony that so often ruins electro-pop gigs.

Prancing around the stage like the Mormon love-child of Bono and Billie Joe Armstrong, Brandon Flowers was made to perform in venues as large as this. No one else could introduce a song as being "about love, about sex, about hope, about dreams" and keep as straight a face as he. No one else could fling a dead pheasant on each shoulder and still be crowned Most Stylish Man at the 2008 GQ awards.

Five songs in and The Killers are riding unbelievably high. They've got the crowd on their side, they sound amazing and even their more vicious detractors couldn't fail to be impressed by the way they turn this cavernous venue into an intimate setting.

Then they start playing album tracks.

At the risk of sounding jingoistic, maybe we could blame their home town. Las Vegas is the home of gaudy excess, so when The Killers bring fake palm trees, neon lights and – gulp – a saxophonist on to the stage, perhaps they're just paying tribute to their heritage. Even if that is the case, it's still no excuse for a bloody bongo player.

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For seven songs we have to sit through The Killers' frankly awful Duran Duran-isms on a stage that looks like Club Tropicana. The faux African rhythms clash unmercifully with the electrodes.

When The Killers have fought so hard to secure the mainstream vote, it's no wonder fans start wandering to the bar whenever they get experimental. Put simply, people don't really invest in a band like The Killers. Nobody is ever going to carve "Are we human or are we dancer" into their arm as they would have with The Smiths or The Libertines. As such, no Killers fan is interested in watching Brandon Flowers disappear up his own backside in a fog of dry ice and Campari.

By their muted response you can tell these fans need hits. After a time, they get them with "Mr Brightside", "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" and "When You Were Young" closing proceedings to a rapturous reception. With the crowd back on board, The Killers can do no wrong, but for a moment, amid spacemen and existential crises about their dancing ability, The Killers wobbled.

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