Wembley Stadium, London on Saturday, June 22
They called it their “Everest”. Now, The Killers’ day has come. It’s just after midsummer in Wembley Stadium. A crest of arms bearing the words ‘Battle Born’ sits atop the stage. Two lightning strikes run down each side, pointing below to the human soup of bodies straining forwards. Tonight the four-piece from Las Vegas, who first hogged every radio wave in this country almost 10 years ago with their debut single ‘Mr Brightside’, are about to play the biggest gig of their lives.
“Can we climb this mountain? I don’t know/Higher now than ever before,” 32-year-old Brandon Flowers sings on opener ‘When You Were Young’. Suddenly you know that yes, they can. Here’s the thing: The Killers have always written songs for stadiums. This seems obvious now that drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr is pummelling the chorus of ‘Spaceman’ with bared teeth, while Flowers struts the runway-sized stage like a kid who went to sleep in the suburbs and woke up in Disneyland. He sprints to Dave Keuning, his Sideshow Bob lookalike guitarist, a brown fuzz of hair bent over an instrument. He cocks one leg up on a speaker and leans in like a regular Springsteen, belting a line from ‘The Way It Was’: “Sometimes a dream, it don’t come true”. His shoulders slump forward, brow furrowed as though he can’t believe where he is. Then he raises his head and opens his eyes to this monstrous space filled with people as far as he can see. That million-dollar smile comes out of the giant screens either side of the stage, brighter than strobe lighting.
This is the Premier League, the biggest venue most bands will ever play. Madonna, Metallica and Coldplay have done it. Most pull it off, because you’d be a fool to book a venue of this scale without the fans or the songs to fill it. So it comes down to this: will a Wembley show be the peak of a band’s career, or a passage to a new level of superstardom? Oasis played Wembley on two tours in 2000 and then 2009; a month after the second round, they were through. Muse have done it twice, Foo Fighters once. Then, there is another level of greatness. U2 headlined here 10 times. The Rolling Stones, 12. Michael Jackson, 15. The Killers are pulling it off, no question. They’ve dug out the oldies: ‘This River Is Wild’, from 2006 album ‘Sam’s Town’, sounds so fresh it could have been written for ‘Battle Born’. They’ve got the covers: Joy Division’s ‘Shadowplay’ sees Dave Keuning lead with the guitar, while ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ is camp and lovely, the crowd booming the chorus. There are ballads too. On ‘Here With Me’, the stadium twinkles to the rafters with phones held aloft. Now that it’s dark, the little lights give a better idea of the number of people here, hidden behind a blanket of stars. It’s good, but this stadium calls for more.
Britain made this band. So it’s appropriate when, two-thirds of the way through, Brandon says: “We wrote a song to commemorate this joyous occasion.” It’s called ‘Wembley Song’. They set off singing about three lions, the St George’s Cross, the bands that have played here and the legend of the venue. They sing about themselves: “‘Mr Brightside’ had you scratching your head… the seed was planted, you took us in like your own… my, how we’ve grown”. In the chorus, a call-and-reponse of “Deo, deo” bounces between Brandon and the crowd in tribute to Freddie Mercury, who played here with Queen in 1986.
Something clicks. Three more songs slide off the stage before an encore of ‘Flesh And Bone’, ‘Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine’ and ‘Battle Born’. Confetti falls from the rafters. Fireworks spray sparks into the front row. Brandon is high-fiving people. ‘Mr Brightside’ feels like it’s playing at double speed, Wembley Stadium seems smaller, the crowd is putty, and we’re hurtling towards the end. Too soon!
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In the dressing room after the show, Brandon paces with a slice of Papa John’s in hand, those puppy eyes wider than ever. “I felt like we ended abruptly! I felt like we could have played more!” he says. NME reminds him that they have another set tonight at the Highbury Garage, then asks what could possess him to want to play again after such a grand occasion. “It’s unique to play your biggest gig ever and then go back to your roots. It’s been 10 years since we’ve played the Garage.” He stops pacing and cracks a salesman grin. “We’re gonna do something before U2 does it!”
At 1.30am, they come on in the small London club, and are welcomed like heroes. ‘Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll’ gets a rare outing, alongside ‘When You Were Young’ and ‘Mr Brightside’, the latter brace played for the second time tonight. People and plastic cups fly through the air to guitar riffs so tight they could cut ice. Everyone is singing along with Brandon’s voice – which, despite all it’s been through tonight, still sounds impeccable. They should be knackered, but The Killers look like they’re only just getting started.