Prowling Las Vegas with the Killers
Come along for the wicked ride as the Killers try to commit the Seven Deadly Sins in – where else? – Sin City.
The Killers never received the Bono Talk, that rite-of-passage sit-down in which rock’s king of sunglasses sincerity imparts his hard-won wisdom to young bands in the dizzying flush of first success. Over the years Nirvana, Hole, Radiohead, and the Strokes have been offered the Bono Talk, but when the Killers met the U2 frontman backstage after their sold-out show at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre last November, Bono was too lit to lead. “He was pretty drunk,” singer Brandon Flowers says.Adds drummer Ronnie Vannucci. “He did drape his arm around me and say, ‘Spare us the interesting second record.'”
Since Spin named them one of 2004’s Next Big Things, the Killers have actually gotten very big (this does not always happen). Their debut album, Hot Fuss, has at press time sold more than 600,000, and in December the band scored three Grammy nominations, including one for Best Rock Album. In less than a year and a half, the Killers have gone from working-class kids who dress up like Duran Duran and play clubs on the weekends to internationally touring rock stars who dress up like Duran Duran every night. But without the perspective of a big brother who’s navigated the showbiz underworld and survived, they probably would’ve found themselves vulnerable to countless career-derailing turns.
Happily, they recently received the Eric Roberts Talk.
Roberts, the estranged bad-boy brother of Julia who has made a career out of playing lowlifes in moves like Star 80 and The Pope of Greenwich Village, appears as a chiseled, sweaty bordello owner in the Moulin Rouge-inspired video for Hot Fuss’ second single, “Mr. Brightside.” “We were doing this scene,” Flowers says. “It’s like my first acting ever, and between the takes I’m talking to him about fame. I told him we went to Graceland. And he says, ‘It’s almost grand, isn’t it?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ And then he smiles and says, ‘But it’s so fucking white trash.’ About Graceland! Who says that? He’s evil! He’s the devil.”
We’re sitting in Trattoria del Lupo, a swank restaurant in the Mandalay Bay, the tropical-themed hotel and casino on the Vegas Strip. A few years ago, Flowers was waiting tables in a place just like this, serving chicken or fish to the likes of Celine Dion and Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin. He also did time as a bellhop, arranging helicopter tours and lugging Samsonite at the Gold Coast. “Eric was telling me that I will change,” he says, a hint of worry in his flat, boyish tone. “But I don’t think I’m going to. My dad’s still a bellman. I drive a Hyundai with a dent in it. The window’s taped up.”
None of this is meant to suggest that the Killers are green. As we walk back into the casino, a cosmetic-surgery disaster wrapped in a rainbow feather boa rudely pushes her way past us, toward the nickel slots. Vannucci stares at her lovingly. “Yeah,” he says. “It’s good to be home.”
This band knows Vegas like Joey Bishop knows Vegas. The good, the bad, the legal, and highly illegal. Two of the guys have agreed to devote tomorrow, one of their four days of respite from a relentless touring schedule to showing much of it to me. In return, I am going to test their post-stardom moral fortitude by enabling them to commit, if they so desire, all Seven Deadly Sins in a span of 24 hours. For those who haven’t been to church or rented Se7en in a while, those sins are: gluttony, envy, wrath, vanity, avarice, lust, and sloth.
I’m committed, even if I end up on my hotel-room floor at six the next morning, wearing my own vomit, watching footage of the Mandalay Bay’s shark reef on TV, and bargaining with God by kissing his ass for inventing coral. But then, I’m unmarried and more or less agnostic. For the Killers (I won’t meet bassist Mark Stoermer, 27,and guitarist David Keuning, 27, until a few days latter in Manhattan), cooperation is riskier. Vannucci, 28, is married. Flowers, 23, is engaged. He is also a member of the Mormon church, which espouses chaste living and has been known to excommunicate backsliders.
Much has already been made of Flowers’ Mormonism in the music press. Not since Donny Osmond in the early ’70s has there been a heartthrob down with the Tabernacle Choir. But Flowers shrugs off the notion that he’s at all socially or creatively hampered by his faith.
It’s okay to say, ‘I’m an atheist and I’m this artist,” he told me in a crowded bar the night before. “But it does make people kind of raise an eyebrow when they hear ‘Mormon,’ [because] I smoke and drink.” He points this out as if to assure me he’s not worried our next day together will send him to Heck, or that it will cause any internal conflict that the cigarettes and beer haven’t already wrought. So let him have his occasional vice. “I don’t get a chance to go to church all the time, but your average Joe isn’t going to come across the things that we’re gonna come across.”