The Killers, Sunday July 24, Wayhome Music and Arts Festival, Oro-Medonte, Burl’s Creek (north of Toronto).
The Killer’s frontman and songwriter Brandon Flowers is smiling in that authentic, endearing way that fans, AKA “Victims” know well and sometimes wait years for. But memory will have to serve as we are firmly, for once, in the beautiful analog-no-photos-please authentic world of Flowers (and those of us over 30) ‘s dreams and visions. He’s atop a monitor. Now he’s behind his trademark, trusty synth. Now he’s singing slightly toward stage right, and when he veers finally over to stage left, we all swoon.
It’s Sunday night at 9:30 sharp and The Killers are back again with us, rapidly and assuredly closing the gaps between the couple of years since their last big tour as if it was but a season ago. Toronto’s been lucky enough to be on every tour since the hardworking band’s formation 14 years ago, with a couple of Brandon Flowers solo stops for good measure (including a smashing solo turn at the inaugural Wayhome last year). But tonight, tonight, something bigger is afoot. Those of us with the Victims official fan club T-Shirts still holding up and still worn have seen all the various stage set ups from glammed up to palm trees to full Las Vegas dazzle to horn sections (Ray!) to skeletons to confidently stripped back, like tonight. As the Wayhome crowds surge from all over the massive grounds to the one and only Sunday finale show, on the day things finally have cooled just a little in the merciless heat and we could take the necessary siestas for this important ritual, The Killers launch right into a no-fuss no-muss 1.5 hours of sheer bangers with nary an interruption and just the right amount of words from the stage.
Whatever people want to assume or claim about a private man and a band that is focused firmly on making music and not selling ancillary products or playing silly celebrity PR games, one thing is certain. This band is full of humility and gratitude. This is evident everytime they leave it all on the stage and the impeccable track record of never dialing it in. This is a fact that is not up for debate- we’ve done the research. We don’t take in music or report on gigs as if we were old players commentating in suits on a footie game. This is life, music, art and soul. This is something you only rate with your heart.
The barely repressed smile and the energy coming down from the stage is the gravy and is also the prize in the Cracker Jack box. One could almost forget that The Killers headlined Glastonbury back in 2007, Flowers in perfect Las Vegas gold lame, and they killed it with ease, cementing their legacy for the larger world which always got them more than their country of origin in the usual US/UK exchange program that includes such esteemed members as Depeche Mode (bigger in US than in UK) and The Cure (bigger and more beloved in Toronto and around the world than in US or UK). Tonight, the smile and the energy and the life coming from up there is as true blue as if it was a newer band finally hitting their stride and getting their shot, or as if we have somehow all been teleported to Glasto in 2007 and are seeing history made.
As if it weren’t enough to have been treated to an immense, deeply crowd pleasing festival bill of over 60 acts, including Arcade Fire’s first full band show in over two years, LCD Soundsystem’s first outing in five years, an unforgettable and utterly artistic FKA Twigs late night show and happy surprises on four diverse musical stages, the festival closes in a way that conjures fantasies that my firm, private comment in the car after Flowers ‘ solo set last Wayhome was prescient and was even as powerful as law:”Now The Killers need to come back and headline. That would be a perfect fit.”
And here we are with Brandon, Dave Keuning, Ronnie Vannucci Jr and touring bassist Jake Blanton. Everyone is where they belong tonight. Seems like everyone is here, in a space that looks scary from above (in a Wayhome-provided drone shot) but is really an amiable wide open field with room to move even at that perfect front /side pocket where those in the know get in early. I am are here with old friends, new friends, and my truest love. We are all here. We 40,000 can’t help falling in love.
The buzz is rising in the strange twittersphere that The Killers are back on the road again like they were for so many years we were spoiled from. The energy is electric, the excitement is palpable and one of the many wild, non-nonsensical totems of this great big weekend is finally the sensible and meaningful “Battle Born” whose carriers fight to the front and before the eyes of all the band to see. Victims, representing, and The Killers crash onto the stage folding time like a paper airplane. Because that’s what great music does. These are pre-dystopian anthems of just a few years ago in an ever changing and lately, flattening musical landscape. Killers songs have balls. They have heart. They have staying power. They have worth. They can save your heart. They might have already saved your heart from the mean reds or the blues sometime as they did mine not so long ago, something I wear on my sleeve because it’s true, and it’s past and love did not leave my life but returned to it, and all the while, the music held me up and will always be loved in turn, like my religion, because that’s what music is.
Killers songs are about an unbelievable woman who stupidly broke a beautiful man’s heart, fueling a truly great album in our new century. They are about remembering your essence, the gold hearted boy or girl you used to be. They are from a juggernaut of a band whose demos were so damn good, they went right on to the first album. These same songs ring with unabashed, brave, unvarnished, uncool truths (yet made cool when set to music, when brought into the light, when reaching the millions strong who get it and buy in) they are rock and roll poems full of feelings of longing, apprehension, fear & anger. They are the dreams of regular people, music fans, who willed themselves and fought (battle born) and hustled with true grit to stand beside their own musical heroes and belong there. And duet. And cover, beautifully. And be in the game and to change it, too. And like all the greatest songs we set our hearts beating in time to, for those of us who grew up to the strains of synth pop assuring us that the Cold War was something we could dance through (and so we did), Killers songs ring as true as New Order, as The Cure, as Joy Division, as OMD, as The Smiths & Morrissey, as Bruce Springsteen, as Elvis.
The Killers have always done a cover or two, and have always done them justice, if not breathed new life into them. Fans know all this. Casual listeners can be turned with a few drops of these covers. The Killers have long made Joy Division’s Shadowplay a part of their set (before it was cool, even) and tonight, I see that they’ve now just up and made it their own after recording it for the great Ian Curtis biopic “Control” and playing it steadily down the years. This song is their secret touchstone, that band, Joy Division, the mecca and the root of all British rock post-Ian Curtis’ tragic death and the end of Joy Division, the band that is the grail we start from and look for in our own tours around those few chords and few notes, working to make something we haven’t heard before in a time when it feels heavy and stale, like its all been done.
But the pace never slows with this band, at this show, and as a veteran of 8 Killers (and one Flowers solo) shows on two continents I can say that as great as they’ve always played, this is the best one yet. That is all down to the band’s impossibly tight, agile, tireless and euphoric show. And has an extra drop of magic of a festival crowd in total sync in the final hours of celebrating the dedication to make journeys and travel to make music matter, to make sure we are a part of it and not sidelined on the couch, an effort that grows more special with every dystopian year lately. No less so as the world continues to ache with public violence, and the bravery and commitment of both performers and fans is not insignificant.
But that’s the last thing on our minds as we all delve in and sing and dance and cheer without a minute’s pause or lapse to Mr. Brightside, Spaceman, The Way it Was, Human (intro) Bling, Shadowplay, Human, Somebody Told Me, Glamorous Indie Rock and Roll, For Reasons Unknown, A Dustland Fairytale, Can’t Help Falling in Love (Elvis cover), Read My Mind, Runaways, All These Things That I’ve Done, This is Your Life, Jenny Was a Friend of Mine AND When You Were Young.
The bucket list for this band – if we can’t just be hired to feed Ronnie’s dog on tour-is growing shorter and now revolves around seeing a Killers Christmastime show featuring their annual Project Red charity singles (especially “A Great Big Sled” and “Don’t Shoot Me Santa”) and the Murder Trilogy. Oh and Romeo and Juliet. Oh yes, this is how a Victim conversation goes.
Happily, The Killers decided to pull up to the foot of our driveway once again, and were welcomed back. That feeling soaking your spine was, actually, magic.
Ronnie Vannucci Jr. gets the last word though, and it’s mike droppingly brilliant. After his customary drum sticks toss (his second of the night) he steps to Flowers’ mike and reminds us all “Tell your friends”.
By Jacqueline Howell (Victim)
— Darcys (@itsthedarcys) July 25, 2016