The Killers - Northampton, UK, Summer 2004
01 Sep 2004
'... everything is heightened - it's 24 hours so everything's go, go, go. but every major city has its heartbeat: in l.a., it's television and film; new york, business and commerce... it's all exciting, but in vegas, it's entertainment...'
A NIGHT WITH THE KILLERSIt's not everyday one has the opportunity to date a rock star. In fact, I purr creamily in the reality that this evening's rendezvous in fact will not only be with one but all four luscious members of the stimulating band that is The Killers. Yes, 'cos tonight, Sam Hall you'll be wined and dined by one of the hottest bands on the trans-Atlantic music highway. Best get out your fanciest frillies...
In October 2003, I eagerly crammed into the dank sticky-floored backroom of the Dublin Castle to hear a quirky, unknown band from Las Vegas. They were then, and are now, The Killers.
For weeks, chummy A'n'R pals, various acquaintance big-wigs and booking agents attempted to stunt my enthusiasms and veer me to more 'appropriate' fanbases. Encouraging the enthusing over other more 'certain' retro-dance/rock success stories. 'No, Sam - Stellastarr*, Razorlight, keep your eyes on those - trust, darling,' they mused, but I persisted. My passion was strong, my heart wilful. I was going to get my band.
Weeks later, 'Mr Brightside' became an underground smash as the limited-edition single ran around every cult DJ and trend-setters turntable in the Capital. We admittedly at The Basement Club too were pounding out this rekkid before it was even barely available. The rest, of course, is ancient. Their next intimate showcase night, a mere fortnight later, now at the Barfly had musical gurus stuck to the walls. Our crush kindled.
So after a steady (and notably rapid) rise to hit parade success and media acclaim, The Killers now bear a top-ten album in their mitts, a swiftly escalating number of sold-out, praised concert and festival appearances around the globe and, via a re-release, a true classic single in the form of the aforementioned 'Mr Brightside'.
So upon the hearsay that the Vegas countrymen were returning to our fair island yet again for victory crowning performances during the summer, my heart yelped. What's more, I'd at last been invited on a date with the band of the mo, my band of the mo, to 'hang out, chat and generally cavort'. In Northampton. How I fluttered.
So as I stumbled out of the cab, under a greyish, dank Northamptonshire sky, my skirt slightly creased, I was led solely by the pink sickly glow of the Soundhaus walls into The Killers soundcheck. With lips smacked firmly round a chilled bottle of rider-poached Kronenburg, I eyed in awe at the stars at work. The band's sound-check was a long and rather meticulous affair. Surprising? No. This is, after all, the band that's limits on glamour, exuberance and perfection is no question. It's not in their culture. Key live shows of the past have included backing vocals by whole gospel-choirs, great pyrotechnic shows and endless wardrobe consultations. The land of Las Vegas frosting has no limits.
As we go to dinner (a rather dinky, over-friendly Indian down an enticingly dodgy side-road) we start to banter about the true origins of their sound, of that Las Vegas feel, that - dare we say it - 'pizzazz' (cue jazz hands). Pretty standard points to make light conversation over dinner you'd think, but with The Killers, the subject of environmental influence is no light, pre-naan chit-chat.
'Personally, I've always felt that our style has a universal theme and, so, appeal,' starts Brandon to our left. 'The strip isn't 9-5 - yeah, it's 24-7. It's not a normal existence, but, where we live, it's different. It's like you can have both...the strip's there when you want, it never closes down.' He recalls as he prods at his mushroom course.
'I guess there are similarities about our record to the style of the strip... it has its dark sides, but there's no superficial sheen to it,' leans over guitarist Dave.
Yet how can the glossiest, neon-lit LP of the year be unaffected by its creators notable raz-ma-taz and ambiguous habitat - is it not like living, learning and creating in a casino surrounded by bling-encrusted, dancing polar bears existing as 100% of your existence?
'Yeah, everything is heightened - it's 24 hours so everything's go, go, go. But every major city has its heartbeat: in LA, it's television and film; New York, business and commerce... It's all exciting, but in Vegas, it's entertainment,' chirps drummer Ronnie.
(Note - at this point, despite being indoors, a great pigeon flies into the inside of the window, landing onto tour manager Gilbert's lap. As the roadies struggle to grab this random intruder, the rest of the restaurant carries on un-phased. Is this the norm in Northampton? We note this particularly because I laugh so hard that I spurt out mango chutney all over bassist Mark opposite, who - at this point - has not looked up once from his totalitarian, Americanised plain omelette and fries, but chooses to grace us with his attention at the precise moment half-congealed popadoms fly his way. Charmed, we're sure. We fear gross embarrassment and disdain by the band till Brandon breaks his silence with further documentation about the subject-matter of their unique sound. Saved.)
'If I find something interesting, I'll write about it,' he goes on. 'In the same way people like stories or films or books. I love movies. I can write about anything I want. Pop music keeps re-hashing things... it's got to progress... like... kids' stories. It's how you personally see things. But for me, it really just comes out... I don't know any other way to write. But, at the end of the day, you're observing and commenting from out there, the outside world, and, if that's how you see it, that's fine.'
And as massalas grow cold, boiling-tipped support act The Departure grace the stage back at the venue, and spurred on we start on the issue of retro-disco, genre categorisation and that classic - the American-Brit music sales clash and how the sprawl of scene-specific media works out there in Yankee country.
'There's a big difference in the clubs. Here, they'll play Franz next to Foo. Maybe it's something to do with the size of population (in America), (but) it has to be more separate,' adds an introspective Mark.
'Yeah, radio stations are separate too - you'd never get Outkast next to The Strokes, it's all genre stations... Outkast would be on the black rap station, where they just play hip-hop, R Kelly over and over, or like a rap metal station non-stop. But we like to hear Franz next to black music. A good song is a good song. Britain has a fresher appreciation of everyone; I don't think it's normal to listen to one type of music for two hours on end,' dismisses Dave.
And what of The Killers' personal appreciation of Brit music - do they think this has affected their spiralling UK success? To name a few, Morrissey, Bowie and even guitar-heavy Oasis rain as key influences of the Las Vegas quartet; it's by no means all retro 80s dance pop as it may well seem to the blinkered or uninitiated.
'See, Britain has always been leading the way in trends since the '60s,' actualises Flowers. 'The UK always takes things first. The current trend, the latest fashion. In the States, they're picking it up too, just later. It's a whole other crowd, but, yeah, we're doing just as well over there...'
And the band's opinion on those that force them into the niche of 80s-harking, synth-based dance-rock?
'Ahh...' Ronnie fidgets and lights some incense now amidst their vast, but calmly drab dressing-room, a space lit predominantly by the blinking illumination of a maturing beer fridge in the corner. 'People desperately stretch genres. They try to connect bands together; it's so stretched to say we're like the Scissor Sisters... They're more like the Bee Gees or something.'
'The 80s thing, it's a small part of what we make up; we're influenced by so many bands - Pink Floyd, The Who, 70s bands too. The scene changes a lot faster here; I think people need to have everything pigeonholed so they can get their head round the influx of new music,' muse Mark and Dave collectively.
And as the impending show rears its nervous head, suitcases start to be flung open, and various dishevelled blazers and admittedly darn cool garments are hurled around in a fluster to be styled to casino-tourist perfection. Conference calls are exchanged and immense, overwhelming work schedules are thrown around and debated about as if they were streets on a Monopoly board.
So what's for The Killers next? Hows will our evening end? Are we going to see them again? Will they call? Is that fear of being shuffled into a corner with a number of hugely successful, but supposedly gimmicky alternative bands, aka The Darkness and Scissor Sisters, a concern? Or do they see themselves as long-lasting and universally adaptable to progress as their idols Bowie and Morrissey?
'It's amazing just to get to this level,' straightens Mark before being swiftly interrupted by a defensive Flowers.
'We're certainly not a gimmick band, our music speaks for itself - it's not gimmicky. The Darkness, say what you want but anything that's good and real... that'll stick around. If The Darkness keep writing good hits, they'll stick around too.'
* * *
And as they return post-show in a sweaty after-glow of what can only be described as a rapid, juvenile exchange of sweat, summer dreams and musical ambition, what future aims do The Killers now hold? And how long is this love-affair going to last?
'There'll be another album in 2005. But frankly we're achieving our goals at the moment. To play London, to have music videos on MTV. That'll be there forever. Juts to keep what we're doing,' muses a sultry, smiling Dave.
'We've got one goal - to stick around,' affirms Brandon. 'And we will... for a long time.'
With that, glasses of champagne in hand, we bundle into the golden tourbus (yes: ever the Las Vegas band through and through) and head London-bound for another adventure.
But, wait, what of their ladies stateside?
In Ronnie's own words.
'Honey, you don't bring sand to the beach, do you?'
Enough said. So are we smitten? We think so.