It’s a tough question, but if you had to ask what my favorite venue in the Austin area is, the Cedar Park Center would just jump right to the top of my list. I mean how can you hate it? It’s a mere half hour from downtown Austin, has the intimacy of a barn, and is operated by a senile staff of elderly folk of whom I’m surprised are able to operate their own vehicles to get to work. The best part of this cutting-edge, multi-use, 5,000 seat-beauty is the unnecessary, 30-minute ride on 183 to Cedar Park that features some beautiful, industrial North Austin sights, speed traps, and an ungodly amount of traffic. So it was only with the biggest smile on my face did I hop in the car, during a torrential downpour, to trek to my ‘favorite’ venue this past Friday night in order to see The Killers take the stage as they tour in support of their recently released album Battle Born.
As I listened to Battle Born while driving to the concert in Friday’s central Texas typhoon, it dawned on me that Brandon Flowers has a serious Bruce Springsteen complex. Almost every song has the Boss’s signature on it – which leaves only one problem – Brandon Flowers IS NOT BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN. On almost every song, Flowers’ warbling falsetto is strained over massive choruses, while he sings cheesy, generic Americana lyrics that try to evoke a stadium anthem vibe but fall almost comically short.
Regardless of the rain and The Killers’ new faux-Springsteen bullshit, I still remained optimistic about the concert. I was a huge fan of Hot Fuss in 2006, and an even bigger fan of their sophomore effort Sam’s Town in 2008. The only other time I’ve seen The Killers was in 2007 at the Verizon Wireless Theater in Houston, where they blasted through a memorable 45-minute set that consisted solely of Hot Fuss songs.
As I sat in the parking lot traffic at the Cedar Park Center for an extra twenty minutes, thereby missing the end of opening band The Virgins, I still clung to the hope that this night would be an unbelievable show. As I waded through a muddy field to the center’s entrance, I thought about how unbelievable the last time I had seen The Killers had been. I could hear the crowd roar as The Killers launched into their first megahit “Mr. Brightside,” and I became just as excited as the tweens that I had walked in with.
I reached my seats as the band launched into “Spaceman,” a U2-esque single off their third album, but the gravity of the situation didn’t sink in until the next song. As they started in on the first song off Battle Born, “The Way It Was,” I came to realize Flowers was not only dressed like an Urban Outfitters version of Bruce Springsteen, but was practically pantomiming the Boss’s patented stage moves a la the “Dancing In The Dark “ hip-snap. And then came the lyrics:
“In my daddy’s car to the airfield/Blanket on the hood, backs against the windshield/Back then this thing was running on momentum, love and trust/That paradise is buried in the dust”
My head was spinning as I realized that Brandon Flowers isn’t just influenced by Bruce – HE THINKS THAT HE IS BRUCE. From the inter-crowd banter, to the count-off before each song, to the way he smugly smiled out on the crowd as if he’d been touring stadiums for the past thirty years.
Thankfully The Killers got back to their New Wave-influenced pop roots with “Smile Like You Mean It” and an impressive Joy Division cover of “Shadowplay.”
The band’s Vegas roots began to show when they played “Somebody Told Me” and the show’s production suddenly went into overdrive. Lasers and fireworks erupted at the song’s chorus and would carry on throughout the rest of the set to Disney proportions, which seemed to have more of an effect on the tweens screaming behind me than the overdressed yuppies sitting down in front.
The Killers finished strong with hits like “Read My Mind” and an epic “All These Things That I’ve Done” capping off a marathon of a 17-song set. Flowers and company half-feigned leaving the stage, only to run right back onstage for an encore with Flowers guffawing, “Austin you can’t just get rid of us that easy!”
The encore included favorites such as “Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine” and “When You Were Young,” but even as confetti rained down and the lights and pyrotechnics went into seizure-inducing effect, the band closed with “Battle Born,” a sour grape at the end of the vine that only reminded me of how contrived and cheesy of a spectacle the majority of the show had been.
While Friday night’s show had its highlights in that it evoked nostalgia for albums like Hot Fussand Sam’s Town, the show was, overall, an utter disappointment. The stadium Americana direction that the band has taken as of lately is worse than forgettable. To say that I’m still a Killers fan would be like saying that I think OJ Simpson is still a good guy for running the football so well. I would like to say that this is just an experimental phase for the Killer’s but I think Flowers has already begun drinking his own Kool-Aid, fortified with a heavy dose Springsteen-envy, and that any new album to follow their latest might actually cross the line into a parody of themselves.