Indie rock heroes The Killers played a sold-out show at the UCSB Events Center on Friday, causing crowds of people and copious quantities of confetti to descend upon the Thunderdome. The sold-out show was easily the biggest event UCSB’s Associated Students’ Program Board has undertaken so far this year, and although their relative collective inexperience was rather evident at various points of the evening, the show itself was a hands-down triumph for all parties involved – except maybe Solarcade, the first opening band.
Exhibiting delusions of Bono-like grandeur, Solarcade lead singer Paul Van was a kind of amalgamation of the aforementioned arena-rock hero and the vampire, Lestat, of Anne Rice fame. He was backed by a band that featured the kind of tight black T-shirted, serious looking guy you just know has a thick Eastern European accent and a name like Klaus, a guitarist with a fair amount of talent, a killer collection of sparkly, shiny, glow-in-the-dark guitars and an awesome coat, a fairly nondescript drummer and an incredibly happy bassist with an equally incredible rocker-chic ensemble. The overall vibe was a bit off for the Killers-craving crowd, with Solarcade’s combination of new wave and metal coming off as an unnecessarily heavy way to start the show. The band’s music was as dark as their eyeliner, and their collective stage presence – with the exception of the aforementioned awesomely happy bassist – felt more like a self-love session for the lead singer than a live show. Generally, it’s hard for a crowd amped to see a specific band to connect with such a relatively unknown opening act, meaning the onus falls on the band to make the connection happen. Unfortunately, Solarcade failed miserably on that account.
However, the second opening band – Howling Bells – was a welcome change from Solarcade’s connection problems. Also relatively unknown by the crowd, Howling Bells hails from Australia and, according to their lead singer Juanita Stein, Friday’s show was their first “proper” live appearance in the U.S. Here’s hoping it wasn’t their last, because the Howling Bells’ unique combination of catchy country, indie rock and pop was the perfect balance of laidback cool and indie rock intensity. Frontwoman Stein combines the Yeah Yeah Yeahs Karen O’s lithe gyrations, Neko Case’s country crooning twang and Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson’s way of delivering pretty pop vocals with a decidedly darker undertone. Flanked by hotties on all sides – with whom she performed several mid-song mini-dance-numbers – Stein definitely delivered a show that captured the audience’s attention and eventually garnered its loud, very vocal appreciation – and, rightly so.
After Howling Bells, there was an incredibly long set change mostly characterized by the fact that the same slow, sad song was played at least four times on loop over the arena’s speakers and, when the restless crowd was not feeling faint from the torturous track, the lack of concessions available in the venue and the ban on bringing your own bottled water made dehydration and discord the words of the day when it came to the crowd. Just when things were reaching their proverbial breaking point, the house lights dimmed and a slew of graphics began showing up on the big scrim draped over the stage. Then, the scrim dropped and The Killers came out.
From their opening chords to the last song of the encore, The Killers were on point and then some, playing a well-rounded repertoire of crowd favorites off their debut album Hot Fuss and new songs from their recent release Sam’s Town. Kicking the show off with “Sam’s Town,” the band immediately went into “Enterlude” – which book-ended the concert nicely when the very end of the concert featured the finale song of “Exitlude.” In between, frontman Brandon Flowers, guitarist Dave Keuning, bassist Mark Stoermer and percussionist Ronnie Vannucci Jr. played one of the best shows the Thunderdome has ever seen.
Flowers was mesmerizing, as usual, as he careened across the stage, jumped on top of monitors and even found time to play his keyboard – despite having to remove the aforementioned copious quantities of confetti from it during a couple of songs. All in all, it was all about the glam – as everything from the layers of lights that characterized the stage setup to Brandon’s bedazzled keyboards spoke to the band’s synth-heavy glam rock aesthetic, eyeliner and all. Despite their lack of between-song banter, the band still managed to captivate the crowd for over an hour, proving that they can carry the headlining spot on what is essentially an arena tour like many bands with more mainstream appeal only wish they could.
Standout songs included the band’s new single “Read My Mind,” the crowd favorite “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,” and the band’s closing number “All These Things That I’ve Done,” all of which were played with what can only be classified as incredible gusto, as they incited palpable rapture from the very participatory crowd. The rarely-played “Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll,” which didn’t make the cut for the U.S. release of Hot Fuss, was a fitting ode to its titular subject matter, as the lesser-known song was just as well played and well received as the band’s bigger hits – an indicator of the prowess of both The Killers and their fans.
Throughout the show, Flowers proved why he’s a favorite lust object for boys and girls alike, peppering his playing with heart-stopping, adorable gestures and exuding cocky confidence as he managed to visually, physically and figuratively connect with the entire audience, despite its swollen size. With his physical asides, Brandon belied his reputation as a rock star diva, imbuing his performance with a sort of wry physicality. Keuning shined during his numerous solos – especially the one during “Read My Mind,” in which his skills were showcased to the delight of the enraptured crowd. Stoermer and Vannucci hit every note, and managed to exude dynamic stage presence despite their relatively static postures and positions on the stage.
Ultimately, the little Las Vegas-band-that-could proved they have power of all sorts – staying power, playing power and the power to triumph over some rather unruly confetti. The Killers’ appearance at UCSB last Friday was a milestone moment for Associated Students’ Program Board and Nederlander Events, who managed to pull it off despite a few poor planning decisions, and a more than memorable experience for everyone who attended. Glamorous indie rock ‘n’ roll indeed.