Band of the Year: The Killers
What's all the Hot Fuss about? Leaving Las Vegas to take over the world, the new masters of dance rock land in New York for a heroes' welcome.
By: Marc Spitz
A cold wind is blowing across the Great South Bay and the kids have added a layer to their late-summer outfits. The Tommy Hilfiger at Jones Beach Theater in suburban Wantagh, Long Island, seats about 14,000 of them. It’s the kind of outdoor venue your Jimmy Buffetts and James Taylors safely rock during the peak months of July and August. Occasionally, an alternative band will headline here, and then only once they’re either legendary (as the Pixies, who performed this past summer, certainly are) or massive (as the Killers, who are headlining this September evening, have become).
“I’ve got you under my skinnnn / I’ve got you…deep in the heart of me.” Singer Brandon Flowers is warming up backstage. While the thick, orangey pancake on his handsome face seems more appropriate for a female cabaret star of a certain age — say, Carol Channing — his croon and swagger are Sinatra-esque in their confidence. Those who remember the Killers’ hesitant stage presence at early shows promoting their 2004 debut album, Hot Fuss, would marvel at the transformation, 185 shows later. Flowers flirts. He emotes. He fakes it. And he flirts again. All bands play to the crowd; a rock star plays with the crowd. A fashion plate in the new wave dandy mold, Flowers now has haute designers eager to clothe him. (Even the three other members –kinky-haired guitarist Dave Keuning, gangly bassist Mark Stoermer, and wisecracking drummer Ronnie Vannucci — are standing up a little straighter, dressing with some flair.) When Flowers spies a polka-dotted man-frock he likes at a photo shoot, he simply has someone put it in the car. “I wonder if we’re getting a bad reputation for that,” the 24-year-old chuckles, but it’s clear he’s not really too concerned. Those who might normally be concerned are accustomed to such things. They wink. They shrug. They tolerate. This is what rock stars do.
If there’s any doubt about such behavior being deserved, simply look at the stats: more than five million copies of Hot Fuss sold worldwide (the last time a new-wave, dance-pop album did that kind of business, Molly Ringwald and Dweezil Zappa were Hollywood’s It couple); two Hot 100 singles (including the Top 10 hit “Mr. Brightside”); three Grammy nominations; an MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist. They’ve been on Letterman, Leno, Conan, Kimmel, SNL, and of course, The OC. They’ve hung with Bono, Morrissey, Bowie, Noel Gallagher, Elton John, and Paul McCartney, and hired famed rock photographer/filmmaker Anton Corbijn to direct the video for “All These Things That I’ve Done” because they’re fans of his. And because they could. Perhaps more important, even those critics who initially explained away their crossover hits as crafty pastiches of Duran Duran, New Order, and U2 had to acknowledge the song-craft. Modern rock simply doesn’t make it onto hip-hop- and ballad-dominated pop radio these days unless the hooks are irresistible.
By the time you read this, phase one of the Killers’ campaign for world domination will be complete. The Las Vegas quartet will be back in Sin City. After a genuine vacation (their first in two full years), they’ll begin recording the songs they’ve come up with “during that hour and a half before sound check,” as Keuning describes it. Titles like “Where the White Boys Dance” already seem prescient, but even if the follow-up to Hot Fuss (tentatively slated for a fall 2006 release) is bigger than its predecessor, there’s no way 2006 will be any more momentous, both professionally and personally (Flowers wed his longtime girlfriend in August, and Keuning and his girlfriend had a baby boy in September). So, amid the band’s blur of a year, we were curious to learn which pop-cultural events managed to penetrate their universe. As we suspected, they didn’t miss much. Okay, maybe krumping, but that’ll have its nostalgiafueled revival in about six months anyway.
To read the rest of the Killers’ recap of 2005’s biggest moments, pick up the January issue of Spin on newsstands everywhere, or subscribe now!