I wonder what the members of the now-fractured Libertines are doing tonight. You might remember them, or not, as the band for whom The Killers opened at the old Huntridge Theatre one August night in 2003. About 200 onlookers turned out, paying $10 a pop for tickets, as The Killers outshone the dissension-wracked crew from the U.K. Maybe topping the Libertines of 2003 was a scant achievement, but it was a starting point of sorts for the band from Las Vegas that would soon release its first album, “Hot Fuss.”
We have since found out about The Killers’ grand designs. The band would not be stopped. In April of 2005, a little less than two years after that show at the Huntridge, they filled the big garage that was the old Joint. And tonight they played the first show at the new Joint. They rocked the place, too, just tore it up before a pulsating crowd of 4,000 mostly standing fans who more than knocked the sawdust off the just-finished music hall.
Bringing in the hometown band was a beautifully conceived ode to Las Vegas. The Killers’ career now has an appreciable arc, and it all started here. The band has been together for about seven years, long enough to forget (almost) that Brandon Flowers was once a bellman at the Gold Coast and some of The Killers’ first gigs were at a coffeehouse (Café Espresso Roma on Maryland Parkway) and an all-ages club (the Junkyard on West Sahara Avenue) that are now closed. I remember them in particular playing the House of Blues, in late 2004, and feeling that the band sounded fine, but that Flowers, in the crucial role of frontman, had some work to do. He moseyed from the keyboard to the standing mic, seemingly unsure of whether to strike a match or do the Twist.
But the band, and Flowers in particular, was more than up for tonight’s Herculean assignment. He strutted onstage with a swagger that brought to mind Frank Sinatra, if Sinatra were to wear a coal-black suit with a military-style jacket with frilly, sequined-bedazzled shoulder pads. Two minutes into “Spaceman,” from the band’s most recent release, “Day & Age,” Flowers had already climbed atop a monitor and dropped to his knees in full wail. He might have called out for everyone to sing along, too, because everyone was shrieking the song’s lyrics. Flowers has grown into the role, even if, for some strange reason, his keyboard is positioned behind the light bulb-filled, lowercase k that has become the band’s onstage trademark. Why hide your lead singer behind a stage prop? I imagine Mick Jagger angrily kicking that k aside like an out-of-place hassock.
Regardless, musically the band was powered as always by the thunderbolts of drummer Ronnie Vannucci, whose ever-present scowl and three days’ of scruff make him look like a guy you wouldn’t screw with in a saloon. With Vannucci thrashing about, The Killers relished The Joint’s vastly improved, supersonic sound; tonight’s versions of “Mr. Brightside” and “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” were far more thunderous than the studio versions on “Hot Fuss.” All evening, the sound was refreshingly well-balanced, warm and rich, which could not be said for most shows in the hard-sided old Joint. The only flaw I detected was a huge jolt of feedback to start “All These Things I Have Done,” but that even seemed to work as planned, like the guitar feedback to start “I Feel Fine.” Say this about tonight’s feedback: It was a stereophonic experience, filling the venue from all sides.
The band also made good use of The Joint’s vast stage, which is far larger than that of the old Joint and one of the new venue’s significant improvements. The stage was bedecked with artificial (I think) palm trees, and behind the stage was a huge sheet of lights -- like an arena-sized version of the old Lite Brite toy. The band was alternately bathed in lights that inspired images of neon -- bright blues, green, pink and purple. The lights splashed over a wide-ranging set list that featured a large sampling of cuts from “Day & Age,” the best of which were “This Is Your Life,” “I Can’t Stay” and “Joy Ride.” The band also offered the curious “Human,” which asks the musical question, “Are we human, or are we dancer?” It’s an unfair question, to me, which needlessly forces us to ponder absolutes. Why cannot we be both human and dancer? Someday I will interview Flowers and ask him of that song’s circuitous lyric, but until then, we are both: human, and dancer.
Anyway, about two-thirds of the way through the 90-minute performance, Flowers gladly offered, “It’s Friday night, it’s Las Vegas, and it’s a Killers concert! You know you’re going to dance.” True, that, as the audience hopped and swayed and waved at Flowers’ command. But the best hometown moment was the intro to “Sam’s Town,” off the Vegas-inspired album of the same name. Flowers remembered how the band was initially far more popular in Britain than in the states, even in Vegas, and at the time, Americans were not universally appreciated overseas. “I’m very proud to be from America, and from Nevada,” Flowers said before embarking on the melodic “Sam’s Town.” If ever you can feel a catch in your throat while looking at a blurry image of an old casino on Boulder Highway, tonight was the night.
The performance ended with confetti blasted from cannons set on either side of the stage, and a furnace-blast of pyrotechnics from five stations behind the stage. The Killers -- what more can you say? They are not perfect, to be sure. Many critics feel they peaked early, with “Hot Fuss,” even as they have grown more adventurous musically and lyrically. But The Killers are ours, in fact and in spirit. We claim them, and tonight they made some genuine Las Vegas history.
Notes from The Joint
The Killers' opening act were indie rockers Wild Light. Musically they were great, but the vocals were all over the place, like Tiger Woods on the front nine of the third round of the Masters. “California on My Mind” is the band’s best-known song. The New Hampshire outfit seems not to like California, as the lyric “Forget San Francisco, forget California,” indicates. I’m sure some indie band in the Bay Area can’t stand New Hampshire, either. ... Isn't it always the case that the sound quality for the opening act is subpar compared with the headliner? That was the case tonight. The sound cut out a couple of times on Wild Light. ... Prior to tonight, the venues in which I have seen The Killers perform: The (old) Joint, House of Blues, Celebrity nightclub for a MySpace win-a-ticket-to-a-Killers show promotion, and a Wynn Las Vegas ballroom for the Agassi Grand Slam for Children. The best show? Celebrity, hands down. Just ask George Maloof. He was there that night, edging his way through the crowd until he was nearly onstage. ... Mike Palazzalo and Cash Caterine, a couple of bartenders with a combined 21 years of service at the old Joint, were asked their all-time favorite Joint concerts. They rattled off Coldplay, Jane's Addiction, Incubus and that Australian band that covers Pink Floyd. The greatest experience? The Rolling Stones' sound check, played to an almost entirely empty concert hall for a show that is reported to have defied fire codes for its heavy attendance. ... I was assigned to sit in Studio 7, which still had that "new suite" smell, which is the fragrance of fresh weather stripping. Hard Rock executive Paul Davis’ wishes for that “old Joint smell” will have to be forged over time. ... The Starbucks at the Hard Rock Hotel is offering two specialty beverages as a tribute to the opening of The Joint: The Paul McCartney London Fog Tea Latte, and The Killers latte or frappuccino. The latte comes with a triple shot of espresso, whipped cream and black and white mocha. The frap has a single shot, other ingredients the same as the latte. I am guessing that the drinks are to reflect the artists’ sensibilities, but maybe they were just pulled from the usual menu. Tough call, but go with the Pike’s Peak brewing this weekend.