April 28--You can take the band out of Las Vegas. But you can't take Las Vegas out of the band.
And the Killers are Sin City to the core.
There's an upside and a downside to that, both of which factored into the band's concert on Saturday, the first half of a two-night stand at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco.
On the bright side, vocalist Brandon Flowers and his gang are true entertainers, which is somewhat refreshing in a day when many alt-rock musicians are so busy acting cool onstage that they forget to actually put on much of a show.
On the flip side, the group -- which also includes guitarist Dave Keuning, bassist Mark Stoermer and drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. -- often comes across like it's working a Vegas casino lounge. There's more glitz than good songs, more catering to the crowd than crafting memorable music, at a Killers show.
Oh, well, at least the band is remaining true to its roots.
And what's a Vegas-style show without a grand entrance?
The Killers definitely checked that off their to-do list by taking the stage and performing the opening number, "Mr. Brightside," with the house lights still on. It was a simple, yet effective way to jump-start the show -- a peak behind the curtain, if you will, at the Killers as a regular old rock band.
The vibe changed dramatically with the second number, "Spaceman," as the lights dimmed and the big video screen in back of the stage fired up, offering up
wild intergalactic imagery. Cue the light show and the pop spectacle portion of the show was under way.
The production was pretty impressive, especially once the red laser lights began zooming overhead. Too bad the set list wasn't nearly as good.
It's been nearly a decade since the Killers first came to prominence with the 2004 debut "Hot Fuss." Still, nearly all of the best songs of the night hailed from that first album. Out of the five or six selections that could've stood on their own, minus any type of production elements, four were "Hot Fuss" numbers -- "Mr. Brightside," "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine," "All These Things That I've Done" and, of course, "Somebody Told Me."
Those were the numbers that really connected with the crowd, although fans showed enthusiasm for the weaker material as well.
Unfortunately, the band seems to be moving away from the edgy, New Wave-inspired alt-rock of "Hot Fuss" to a more heartfelt, Heartland sound. Some of the newer roots-rock songs, including ones from last year's "Battle Born," sound like they could've been swiped from the songbook of John Mellencamp or Rascal Flatts.
The band did include one actual cover song, but it wasn't the one I wanted. I was hoping that it would play Joy Division's moving "Shadowplay," given that it's shown up on recent Killers set lists. No dice. Instead, the group played a snippet of Journey's "Lights."
Just to be clear, that's not a good trade.
Even worse, Flowers seems fascinated these days by piano ballads. It's a chance to unleash his inner lounge lizard, of course, but Flowers has yet to find ballads that really work for him. That doesn't stop him from spreading the cheese on mighty thick. He's like a poor man's Elton John and, in general, the band's power ballads can only be recommended for listeners who find Air Supply just too darn exciting.
Fortunately, the Killers saved some of their best for last -- including --All These Things I've Done" (which closed the main set) and "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" (part of the three-song encore).
They went out with a bang, as glittery confetti rained from the ceiling as the set drew to a close. And, to be honest, one would expect nothing less from a band from Vegas.
Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic, www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.
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