Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Murder by Numbers: With Only Half of the Real Killers on Hand, Enjoyable United Center Show Lacks for Fresh Ammunition -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

The Killers
w/ opening act Alex Cameron
United Center, Chicago
January 16, 2017

Those hoping to note the continued viability of contemporary rock 'n roll connecting with mass audiences could find much to be heartened by at The Killers' concert Tuesday night at Chicago's United Center.

Though also, perhaps, not so much.

Although the Las Vegas band has enjoyed considerable international popularity since their 2004 debut album, Hot Fuss, I found it impressive that 14 years on, they sold out the UC, with a rather inflated aftermarket to boot.

Whereas their contemporaries, Arcade Fire, might've had their undersold UC show in late October hampered by playing Lollapalooza Chicago last August, doing so seemingly had the opposite effect for the Killers.

Not only did they fill the Windy City's largest arena--albeit without utilizing seats behind the stage--but at least around my 300-level seats, those in the 17-to-29 demographic seemed to comprise the largest contingent. (i.e. atypically young for an arena rock show by a veteran band whose best music came out over a decade ago)

And while I'll point out some qualms that--for me--made this stop on the Killers' Wonderful Wonderful tour not quite so, there were certainly many moments of communal, multi-generational joy.

"Somebody Told Me"--which lead singer Brandon Flowers halted midway through due to a fight he noticed down front, but resumed without missing a beat--"Spaceman," "Smile Like You Mean It," "Human," "This River is Wild," "All These Things That I've Done" and particularly the closing couplet of "When You Were Young" and "Mr. Brightside" all roared rather delectably.

So, more than not, it was a fun night alongside my frequent concert pal, Paolo, enjoying a band that just Tuesday afternoon, I ranked second among the Best Rock Bands of the 21st Century.

Lest one think the critiques I'm about to espouse come from a non-Killers fan or an out-of-touch old fogie--though I may well be the latter--Tuesday's concert does not make me rethink the above ranking.

This was my 4th Killers show--all in Chicago on 4 straight tours--and I truly loved the last 3.

My rave, @@@@@ (out of 5) review of the band's 2012 gig at the UIC Pavilion was particularly effusive, in the vein of what I was hoping to convey about this show.

I wasn't a big fan of the Killers' 2012 album, Battle Born, but felt the concert then enhanced the material. So despite being lukewarm about 2017's Wonderful Wonderful, I was still expecting a phenomenal show.

Frontman Flowers has always been the dominant (and nearly sole) focal point onstage, so that two of the four permanent Killers--guitarist Dave Keuning and bassist Mark Stoermer--have opted to sit out this tour, replaced by Ted Sablay and Jake Blanton, respectively, also wouldn't seem to be of obvious consequence.

Drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. remains a powerhouse, and with two additional musicians and a trio of backing vocalists abetting the core quartet, nothing sounded obviously deficient save for an occasionally imperfect mix.

But, while respecting that the Killers tried for a somewhat different, less dance rock tonality on Wonderful Wonderful, the title song that opened the show and the album's first single, "The Man," which came next, really didn't do much for me.

In the third spot, "Somebody Told Me," from Hot Fuss, first got the fans' fannies out of their seats--at least atop the arena--and across the 22 songs played (see the setlist here) the best ones clearly came from that debut album, its excellent follow-up, Sam's Town, and the subsequent & solid Day & Age.

Of course, most concerts by artists of any age are dominated by cherished hits of the past, not "new stuff."

But with Flowers just 36, the Killers are a band that should be surging forward, not just running through past glories.

So one starts to think, why did it take them 5 years to put out an album as "meh" as Wonderful Wonderful?

Why did two of the members--still officially part of the band, not reported to be ill or injured--decide not to tour as the Killers are playing the largest non-festival U.S. venues of their career?

Why don't any of their songs seem to mean anything?

And could it be that when Flowers sang the words, "Don't give up on me / 'Cause I'm just in a rut" on the new album's "Rut," he was being all too truthful about his band and its music?

Suddenly, one might not be so heartened about The Killers, and this sold-out show, attesting to the future of rock 'n roll.

Or at least an extremely bright one.

Perhaps it was just a less than killer night. Not only did the whole show seem too "by the book," Chicago was deprived of Sam's Town's fine "Bling (Confessions of a King)" and some choice cover songs the band has played on other recent tour stops--Dire Straits' "Romeo & Juliet," the Cars' "Just What I Needed"--and instead we had less-than-thrilling opening act Alex Cameron join the Killers for his own "Runnin' Outta Luck."

And following a seemingly main-set closing romp through "All the Things That I've Done"--the Killers' building-shaking staple in the vein of U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name"--came a slow new song ("Have All the Songs Been Written?") followed by another ("The Calling") to open the encore.

SMH, as the young ones seem to, um, text. (if indeed they still do)

Yet I don't mean to sound completely negative.

I still sufficiently enjoyed the show to make it worth attending at a bit of a mark-up, Flowers remains a highly-entertaining stage presence blessed with a fine voice and the Killers' great songs pretty much sounded great.

@@@@ out of @@@@@ doesn't mean it was a bad show. Far more so the contrary.

And though it didn't stir me like the band's past shows--and makes me think they need to come up some truly killer new material--I would still call the Killers the second best "newish" band in the world.

But the distance behind #1 Arcade Fire has considerably widened.

Though that band's fifth album, also released in 2017--Everything Now--neither was its high water mark in terms of recorded material, Arcade Fire sold it quite well in a transcendent, thoroughly imaginative concert I dubbed the Best of 2017, over much stellar competition.

Though not as well-attended as this one--for reasons unknown--that brilliant show rekindled my faith in the power of rock music, as a living, breathing idiom, performed by at least a few acts with members born after the Carter administration.

I hoped the Killers would further amplify that belief.

In some ways they did, with a strong back catalog, but let's just say they didn't quite slay me.

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