Brandon Flowers - Brixton Academy, London
The Killers man brings Vegas razzle-dazzle to drizzly Brixton while showcasing his poppy new solo album
His lamé jacket flashing gold in the spotlights, rock’s homeliest hero punches home his story like Mayweather hammering Pacquiao. During opener ‘Dreams Come True’ he sings, “The highway was teasing me with promises and visions of a country unseen/In a black limousine, for the better part of my twenties…”
It’s open house at Chez Flowers tonight, some good old-fashioned Vegas hospitality. Tonight’s soiree (dress code: Vegas hotel lounge singer, theme: ’80s AOR) starts with the above autobiographical story of Brandon’s rise from street corner to stardom and ends with his wife and two of his sons being beckoned onstage to wave us off. In between are confessions and pilgrimages, prayers and hoedowns, childhood ambitions fulfilled and bonding singalongs of old family favourites. So openly does Brandon Flowers invite Brixton into his life that, by the end, you half expect him to offer us his guest room whenever we’re in town.
As his second album hits Number One, Brandon’s solo career is beginning to have the desired effect. In those odd years when his Killers bandmates fancy some quality time away from all those sodding soul soldiers and he’s freed from the creative shackles of the democratic four-piece, he sets out to indulge the deeply personal side of his songwriting, beliefs that would’ve sat awkwardly alongside his long-held love of the corny ’80s rock gloss of The Cars, Huey Lewis and the Pretenders. It’s a window into the private, rarefied world of a rock star who feels unworthy of the title yet redefines it for the moral modern millennial, and yearns withevery ounce of his being to one day sport a credible mullet.
Live, it’s a shamelessly drivetime display. You’d swear Stevie Nicks was doing backing vocals on horn-scorched country ‘Dreams Come True’ and A-ha’s Morton Harket was playing keyboard thunder-flashes on ‘Can’t Deny My Love’. Everyone from Belinda Carlisle to Billy Ocean sounds like they had a hand in stalker disco tune ‘Lonely Town’ and ‘I Can Change’ sounds like its sample of Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown Boy’ is being fed through a Vegas EDM residency. It reaches a degree of mainstream ’80s pop maximalism that even fourth Killers album ‘Battle Born’ balked at, suggesting that the band actually rein in Brandon’s inner Bonnie Tyler.
Also key to his solo splaying is religion. God, being omnipresent and all that, is all over the shop. ButBrandon is using his faith to illuminate more human issues. When he talks of the pilgrimage people take “from Nogales to Magdalena” along “60 miles of sacred road” on the brilliant ‘Magdalena’, it’s in order to highlight “the broken heart of Mexico”. Being “caught in the crossfire of heaven and hell” in ‘Crossfire’ is the ultimate dilemma of the religious rock star trying to steal all the best tunes from the Other Guy, and when he declares “Father, thy will be done” in the hymnal ‘Only The Young’ it’s a wry admission that even the almighty often overlooks the plight of neglected children. Even on the rousing gospel closer ‘The Way It’s Always Been’ he’s “hoping that He’s really got the power to save us from these sins”.
His solo setlist has a way to go to match The Killers of course, so while his own hits pile gradually up he relies on a guest spot from Chrissie Hynde on a cover of the Pretenders’ ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’ – complete with a thumb-in-belt cowboy line-dance together – to do the crowd-pleasing. When he does dip into The Killers’ catalogue it’s with a revisionist’s eye, transforming ‘Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine’ into a spectral Gallic country saunter and playing the motorik and menacing Jacques Le Contremix of ‘Mr Brightside’ that should probably be called ‘Mr Muddyasfuckside’. It’s all in the cause of exposing more of himself – his beliefs, his creative processes, his doubts and his dreams. He’s never been so huggable.