The Killers Killed Two Nights at L.A.’s Wiltern
The anticipation in the crowd is unimaginable. The opening band, Tegan and Sara, has just gotten off the stage and the crowd has been left wanting more. The Killers are to come on next. At the Wiltern LG in Los Angeles, The Killers are playing their first of three shows within two days. Now at their first show, everyone’s dying to hear them play.
The floor of the Wiltern is packed and the noise level seems to get even louder when the lights finally dim. The instruments on stage are all lit up. The Killers drummer, Ronnie Vannucci, has his drum kit set up on a high-rise with backlights. Band frontman Brandon Flowers’ rhinestone-encrusted keyboard stand is poised and ready. It stands there reflecting every color of every single stage light. Guitarist David Keuning and bassist Mark Stoermer have their stands under a spotlight at either side of the stage. The Killers are about to come onstage and play for an overeager crowd.
Back in late 2002, The Killers were still a sparkle in the eye of indie rock. In their hometown of Las Vegas, Nev., Flowers had just been ditched by his then-synth-pop band, Blush Response, when he decided not to move to Los Angeles with the rest of the guys to pursue fame. By some sort of epiphany, he realized his music needed more guitar and answered an ad Keuning had put in their local newspaper. The Killers were already off to a great start.
Odd jobs and pastimes made up a huge part of the bandmates’ previous occupations. Vannucci was busy as a wedding photographer for The Little Chapel of the Flowers, perhaps one of the more upper-class Las Vegas-style wedding chapels, and was studying classical percussion at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas while Steormer was a medical courier.
In between bands, Flowers was a bellhop at The Gold Coast Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas while Keuning spent the better part of his days working at Banana Republic. These menial, blue-collar jobs would soon become their past lives. They would be memories where ideas for song titles would come from. For now, though, The Killers are too busy exploding onto the music scene.
They practiced in the 120-degree garage-desert weather provided by the Las Vegas environment. When that became unbearable they snuck themselves into the music rooms at UNLV, sometimes even using the equipment. When the UK label Lizard King heard their music, they were on their way to complete fame and a deserved fandom.
At the Wiltern, the opening act is over and the lights have finally started to dim. DJ Jed the Fish, representing KROQ, appears on stage and the crowd is already wild with recognition.
The usual interesting and randomness of Jed the Fish’s babble ensues. He talks about the band, mentions their quick rise to fame and how deserving they really are. He knows that everyone claims to have heard about The Killers way before they ‘sold out’ with radio play. Jed the Fish tells the entire crowd that they’re all wrong. The truth of the situation is that we all started to like The Killers together, at the same time.
The marquee at the Wiltern reads ‘KROQ Presents the Killers’ in bold, black letters. Inside, music starts to play loudly but it’s not The Killers just yet. A swift guitar, a fast-paced beat and a smooth and deep voice starts to sing. The Wiltern plays Elvis Presley’s ‘Viva Las Vegas’ as an homage to the boys’ hometown.
The music dies down and under the pretense of light, the boys finally saunter onto the stage. The lights go up and they begin to wield their instruments with the precision and skill of true musicians. Flowers is vocally amazing and Vannucci’s face is more animated than his drumming. Guitars and bass completely in sync, Flowers’ keyboards come into play, recalling the sound of his previous band.
Even so, it’s The Killers ultimately unique sound that has made them so wildly popular in such a short span of time. Flowers is a true entertainer, taking nothing from what cheesy lounge act he might have been witness to growing up in Las Vegas. He does dips with his microphone stand, sits down cross-legged during ‘Andy You’re a Star’ like a torch singer of some swanky 1920s nightclub, all the while pin on his suit’s lapel glistens under the stage lights.
Singing ‘Glamorous Indie Rock and Roll’ released through a demo, the band tells the story of what their own life in the music industry might have been like. Ending their set with ‘All These Things That I Have Done,’ the crowd half expects a church choir to come on stage and sing ‘I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier,’ but Flowers has got the crowd doing that for him already. Truly surreal, our generation has experienced the very beginning of this phenomenon and can expect nothing but good to come afterwards.