Just how much is Brandon Flowers The Man? His lightning bolt keyboard podium has been replaced with a lightbulb festooned Mars gender symbol, and The Killers live is increasingly Brandon’s show. At what, for them, is a tiny club show – and they’ve oversold it to the point where the Academy truly feels like a rammed-to-the-rafters sweatpit – they debut their new half-band Killers band; bassist Mark Stoermer has been sitting out live shows for a few years, now primarily a studio member of the band, and now guitarist Dave Koening has decided to off-road too. By rights, they should call themselves The Ki.
So, with Ronnie Vannucci Jr still his reliable engine, it rests even more on Brandon’s shoulders to carry the Killers live show from here on out, and he tackles the challenge with customary vitality. In a shower of confetti, he’s up on the monitors throwing bodybuilder poses during the disco decadence of ‘The Man’, and pumps the air passionately through ‘Run For Cover’, a track from new album ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ that surges with the Usain pop pace of ‘Hot Fuss’, but now with added New Order basslines. He’s a more attentive ringmaster too: “we’re going to play a brand new song, we’re going to play a song we haven’t played for eleven years,” he tells us, like a variety show host geeing us up for the coming attractions.
The Surrogate Killers, for their parts, do a fine job of sounding like The Actual Killers, and the main set follows their standard stratospheric trajectory. An explosive ‘Somebody Told Me’ gives way to a planet-cracking ‘Spaceman’; ‘The Way It Was’ takes a regretful night drive through FM soft rock country and ‘Smile Like You Mean It’ and growing pain epic ‘Andy You’re A Star’ play on our nostalgic fondness for simpler, Strokesier times. Their Joy Division cover ‘Shadowplay’ remains a rather pointless dip in the set, from which the magnificent ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’ and ‘Human’ provide a Springsteen-worthy recovery. ‘A Dustland Fairytale’ retains the glory and grandiosity of a World Heritage canyon, ‘Read My Mind’ gathers a gospel intensity and the stirring, confetti-blasted crescendo of ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ bursts just as many chests as it did in 2004.
It’s in the encore, as the part-timers had for the door after ‘Mr Brightside’, that the surprises roll out. “Pray silence for the illustrious, praise-worthy Woody Harrelson,” Ronnie declares as Harrelson emerges to read aloud a passage from The Bible as introduction to ‘The Calling’, the new album’s western noir tale - delivered with the sordid guitar hip-swivel of Depeche Mode in their ‘sexy desert Jesus’ phase - of a young man out to heal his sick father with The Lord’s word, and Brandon’s most overt reference to his religion in a Killers song yet. Then they pull ‘Sam’s Town’ offcut ‘Sweet Talk’ from the rarities sack, and polish it to a luminous pop sparkle. As the curtain of fireworks falls on ‘When You Were Young’, the rammed Academy rocks along, reassured. Half a Killers, it turns out, is still one whole heap of Killers.