The Killers Come Home Again with Triumphant 'Sam's Town' Anniversary Show
The Killers didn't have to go far to come back home. The Las Vegas band that rocketed out of this town 15 years ago determined not to set down comfortable roots or slowly fade away returned to the site of their biggest artistic risk on Friday night (Sept. 30) and the reward was sweeter than they could have ever imagined.
With their name blazing on the giant blinking marquee outside and their music pumped throughout the 120,000 square-foot casino (plus some entrée specials renamed in their honor and tastefully scattered bad reviews from the time sprinkled on the walls), the Killers played a triumphant 90-minute victory lap to an intimate group of 1,700 superfans in Sam's Town Live. The cozy, standing-room venue is just outside the lesser-known Sam's Town Casino in Vegas and it's where the band came to honor one of their most misunderstood albums for a crowd that never doubted them for a minute.
Miles from the bright lights of the main Strip, Brandon Flowers and the band chose the old-school locals-heavy haunt to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Sam's Town, an effort the singer said at the time was "one of the best albums of the past twenty years." Because in a town where everyone has another angle -- like the cabbie, Buzz, who tried to upsell us on a free ride to a gentleman's club or a discount on his favorite "enhanced" massage parlor during the 25-minute drive to the far-flung casino named for one gambling mecca's icons, Sam Boyd -- Flowers had something else he was selling Friday night: redemption.
The evening kicked off with a special two-song acoustic set for a select group of VIPs who got up-close versions of "Smile Like You Mean It" and "Can I Change Your Mind," both from the band's triumphant 2004 debut, Hot Fuss. Facing a mosh pit of cell pones capturing the intimate moment, Flowers -- wearing a kind of Sgt. Peppers jacket with big gold buttons and red and yellow accents around the collar -- ended the short set repeating "can I change your mind," a classic Las Vegas plea in a city where everything is negotiable.
He didn't need to worry about pulling this crowd along with him, they were all in. By the time the band took the stage around 9:30 p.m. fans had filled out the cozy, tented decagon-shaped space surrounded by purple drapes with exposed light bulbs and red and white flags crisscrossing the rafters above them. The stood holding their gift white carnations up and screaming for the iconic projected images of the beauty queen in a bikini from the album's cover.
Opening like they were hitting the encore, the band burst out in a thunder of confetti canons as a blue shiny curtain dropped behind them to reveal an illuminated Sam's Town logo to accompany the album's title track. And though the lyrics still make almost no sense a decade later ("I took a bullet, and I looked inside/ And it's running through my veins/ An American masquerade"), it didn't matter, because as they would for every song of the night, this crowd came to celebrate every word.
"We hope you enjoy your stay/ It's good to have you with us/ Even if it's just for the day," the Killers faithful sang together triumphantly, repeating what might as well be the transient-heavy city's tourist theme as they helped a piano-playing Flowers with the second song from the album, "Enterlude."
Playing Town in order meant that the biggest hits, "When You Were Young" and "Read My Mind," came up pretty early in the set. But you would never know it by the enthusiasm the crowd showed for such lesser known tracks as "Bling (Confessions of a King)," "For Reasons Unknown" and "Uncle Johnny." In this room, on this night, those songs were treated with the same reverence and joy as the hits, maybe more.
It felt like this crowd's Pinkterton moment, where they, like the superfans of Weezer's then-misunderstood, now beloved sophomore album, got to share in the collective joy of celebrating a piece of art that speaks to them in a way they can't explain. "We're gonna make it out," Flowers sang with them on "Bling." And they seemed to believe it, no matter what unspeakable acts were happening to their bank accounts on the other side of the doors.
"I feel a lot of love in this room and we want you to know it's not a one way road, it's going both ways," said Flowers before noting that one of the album's producers, Alan Moulder (Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins), flew in for the weekend's two-night celebration. Flowers, in his black vest, white shirt, black pants and perfect hair led the band through their signature mix of new wave gloom and open road rock, playing the consummate Vegas showman who knows when to lean back a bit and let the faithful take over.
"Let me show you how much I caaaaaare!!!" they sang in unison during "My List," doing the fast clap and searching for the song's sky-high chorus, before things downshifted into the glam rock pub sound of "The River is Wild." Even as the Sam's celebration was easing to a close with "Why Do I Keep Counting," the crowd was singing and dancing along just as joyfully as if they were back at the beginning, and not 11 cuts in.
Of course the set ended with "Exitlude," where the faithful got wave their arms and shout "It's good to have you with us/ Even if it's just for the day," swaying and happy for the ride they just went on together.
The band -- who are donating 100 percent of the proceeds from Friday and Saturday night's shows to the hometown charities Toni's House and the First Friday Foundation in support of recovery for the homeless/addicted and bringing arts to underserved communities -- returned a short time later for a hit-stuffed eight-song encore that kicked off with the rumbling "Under the Gun."
The piston-like "Spaceman" was all new wave energy and spooky guitar from Dave Keuning, and the still-inscrutable "Human" turned into a mini-rave thanks to a mechanical Vannucci beat and swirling red and blue lights. "Somebody Told Me" also took on a kind of EDM-like industrial grind groove, as the band brought things home with the positively Springsteenian open highway rocker "Runaway" and "All These Things That I've Done." The latter featured the signature "I got soul but I'm not a solider" group chant," an incantation about love over violence whose message resonates as much now as it did 12 years ago. Maybe more.
By the time they landed the plane with the live staple "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" and the bombastic "Mr. Brightside" it was clear that the night wasn't just about celebrating (or redeeming) the album, but about paying homage to the community they'd built together.
The Killers set list.
1. "Sam's Town
3. "When You Were Young"
4. "Bling (Confessions of a King)"
5. "For Reasons Unknown"
6. "Read My Mind"
7. "Uncle Johnny"
9. "My List"
10. "The River Is Wild
11. "Why do I Keep Counting?"
13. "Under the Gun"
16. "Somebody Told Me"
18. "All These Things That I've Done"
19. "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine"
20. "Mr. Brightside"