Is there a band as content or as enthralled by the day job as The Killers? Every moment of their show at London’s Emirates Stadium (June 4) – their second of the weekend – shows a group in sheer delight, who still can’t believe the chips fell their way. At one point frontman Brandon Flowers quotes Mohammad Ali, who “said that ‘a service to others is the rent you pay for a room in heaven’. We want to get to heaven… Will you allow us to serve you tonight?” At the show’s finale, drummer Ronnie Vanucci Jr simply says: “Thank you for letting us have this job”. N’aww.
That is the perfect balance the band still strike: humble and grateful; bombastic and flashy. There’s likely a level of surprise that they remain as big a draw as they do. The two London shows arrive in the middle of a UK-wide stadium tour, taking in stops in Bristol, Falkirk, Norwich and Manchester at local sports stadiums – 120,000 tickets in London alone, nearly 20 years on from their debut album, 2004’s ‘Hot Fuss’. They, like Arcade Fire and other US bands of that era, found their audience here in the UK and have never forgotten the debts they wish to pay.
Though the Killers’ fortunes have never truly wavered, they seem to be in a sweet spot now. Their last performance in the UK prior to these shows was a Glastonbury headline slot in 2019, and they’ve released two albums since: 2020’s canyon rock classic ‘Imploding The Mirage’ and last year’s knottier ‘Pressure Machine’. The sheer number of hits on the former that are aired tonight – ‘My Own Soul’s Warning’, ‘Caution’ and more – have allowed them to toy with the setlist every night. ‘When You Were Young’ now slots in nicely as the show’s third song and several tunes (‘The Way It Was’, ‘My God’) were aired for the first time on this UK run – a rare big stadium tour where heading to multiple dates will be rewarded.
Some things remain, though: Flowers has Jagger-level bundles of energy and a similar magnetism. His golden suit shimmers with every hip-thrust and he bounces up and down a platform in Cuban heels as he nails ‘Spaceman’, and the underrated 2013 single ‘Shot At The Night’. Rarely does the broad grin slip from the face, and even on the moments where the songs need extra investment to carry the crowd – the slow-burning ‘Cody’ from ‘Pressure Machine’, ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’ – he does so with grace and hunger.
There are the usual stadium show tricks, too: endless fireworks and pyrotechnics, streamers in the colour of Arsenal FC (whose ground the show takes place in) and a giant video screen, best utilised for the ‘The Man’’s renaissance-baiting visuals, and the glow of Las Vegas’ strip on a ‘Dying Breed’. The finest moment is the tried-and-tested audience participation: Flowers picks between two signs asking if they can drum on ‘For Reasons Unknown’, and the winner nails each fill and beat. It’s clichéd, perhaps, but never not thrilling to see someone smash it with the best of them.
Most pleasing was the cuts played from ‘Imploding The Mirage’, a lockdown album that would never truly be alive until played in stadiums as big as these. ‘My Own Soul’s Warning’ has earned its place as their new show opener, and even ‘My God’ – all ‘80s synths and drum fills, but sans Weyes Blood – has earned its place on the setlist. Where it became immediately obvious following the tours for fourth and fifth album ‘Battle Born’ and ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ that some new songs were temporary inclusions that instigated bar-queue dashes, you sense that these are undroppable and unmissable.
And it’s not the only pleasant change: the song’s two-song finale has been given a spruce-up. ‘Human’ has gone full Kraftwerk with a robotic beat, and dazzling visual that poses the choruses’ existential question (“Are we Human, or are we dancer?”) while ‘Mr. Brightside’ starts with the Jacques Lu Cont remix for the first verse and chorus, before they replay it more traditionally when the crowd reach fever pitch.
It’s hard to say that any one act has been hard-done by during the pandemic’s touring pause, but few, aside from Taylor Swift, used the pause so well to their advantage. The Killers return wiser, smarter and with a pair of albums that show the full breadth of their capabilities. The returning tour will go down as one of their finest and most rewarding ever.
The Killers played:
‘My Own Soul’s Warning’
‘When You Were Young’
‘The Way It Was’
‘Smile Like You Mean It’
‘Shot at the Night’
‘Somebody Told Me’
‘Miss Atomic Bomb’
‘For Reasons Unknown’
‘A Dustland Fairytale’
‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ (Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger cover)
‘Read My Mind’
‘All These Things That I’ve Done’