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LIB recap: Takeaways from The Killers’ odd fest-closing set

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The Killers close out Day 2 of Life Is Beautiful Festival on October 27, 2013, in Downtown Las Vegas.
Photo: Erik Kabik/Retna/erikkabik.com

• Frontman Brandon Flowers failed to acknowledge either Life is Beautiful or the evolution of Downtown, unlike so many of his non-local peers this weekend.

• The Killers’ third local show of the Battle Born tour was a slightly shorter but equally bombastic version of the previous two at the Cosmopolitan last December, the band proving their arena-rock bonafides—especially during opener “Mr. Brightside” and recent single “Runaways”—and Flowers fully living up to the confident, crowd-pleasing Vegas showman he has become.

The Killers @ Life Is Beautiful

• The other glaring omission from the singer’s prolific banter was the lack of friendly asides toward bassist Mark Stoermer, who made a return to the stage after mysteriously missing out on the preceding Asia tour leg. Flowers cooed over guitarist Dave Keuning a few times, once calling him “my brother,” and told drummer Ronnie Vannucci, “Let’s get together again sometime,” but addressed Stoermer perfunctorily, and only during the two band-member roll calls.

• Speaking of awkward, there were clunky moments scattered throughout the 100-minute set, including overly aggressive renditions of otherwise standard rockers (like “For Reasons Unknown”), needlessly stretched out takes on weaker songs (“From Here On Out,” “The Way It Was”), and microphone levels and quality compromised during “Read My Mind” and new song “Shot at the Night” (the latter being played live for the first time).

2013 Life Is Beautiful: Day 2, Part 1

• The Killers wisely passed on “Tranquilize”—their 2007 collaboration with Lou Reed—when it came to musically spotlighting the Velvet Underground frontman’s death on Sunday. Instead, they played a touching acoustic version of the Velvet’s “Pale Blue Eyes,” showing that the band can pull off understated performances to great effect.

• When Flowers wasn’t beating the collective Killers chest—“You’re either with us or against us!”—he shared thoughtful stories. When he finally spoke about Reed’s passing, he shared how he left song ideas on Keuning’s answering machine in the early days, including one refrain inspired by the New York icon’s classic album, Transformer. “I was just trying to rip off Lou Reed, and it went horribly wrong …” he said, before he launched into the song that “failed” experiment spawned, “All These Things That I’ve Done.” He also recounted the early days of his parents’ marriage in a trailer park “just off Lake Mead Drive” before playing “A Dustland Fairytale,” a setlist highlight.

• I generally find the enthusiasm of visiting Killers fans endearing, but some of the “Victims” are overzealous to the point of ruining the concert experience. At this particular homecoming show, a middle-aged couple in front of me felt the need to videotape most of the show using any combination of their two cell phones, a digital camera and a goddamned iPad (up to three for the big hits). I’m no bruiser, but I had to restrain myself from demonstrating what “Battle Born” truly means.

• Unshrouded by studio production, the instrumentalists shined onstage. Stoermer enthusiastically plucked off several of his signature chunky, melodic basslines, even smiling more than usual. Vannucci remains an animal behind the skins, putting the stomp in songs like “Bling.” And Keuning wailed with gusto throughout.

• That said, the coalescing of those elements came across sloppy at times, and I have to wonder if fatigue was to blame. Not only was the Battle Born tour itinerary grueling, its shows were so over the top that it’s any wonder Stoermer (or anyone else) didn’t stop to catch his breath earlier. Now that the band members get to finally sleep in their own beds, they should chill out for a bit, follow that up with their passion projects like they did in 2010 and 2011 (Flowers has already spoken about a second solo album), and return to the studio refreshed—and inspired—enough to dream up a truly career-evolving album—their Achtung Baby, their Hunky Dory, maybe even their Transformer.

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