Born in the USA; bloom in the UK

The Killers had to cross the Atlantic to find fame, but their new sound does justice to American legends, says Kitty Empire

Sunday November 26, 2006

The Killers
Glasgow Academy

It would not have been at all surprising if the Killers had limped onstage in Glasgow clutching wadded bandages and dragging bloody stumps. Their second album, Sam's Town , received generally warm reviews in the UK. (It stands to reason: like the Strokes and Scissor Sisters before them, we made Las Vegas's Killers famous, and we indulge our progeny.) But in their native US, Sam's Town was savaged.

Where UK critics heard a big, bold progression from the band's sneaky synth-pop-cum-indie-rock hybrid debut Hot Fuss - a record that sold 5m copies worldwide - the Americans smelled a rat. Rolling Stone was particularly disparaging about the way the Killers filched from Springsteen, pooh-poohing Sam's Town 's wide open roads and heavy weather metaphors.

The New York Times twisted the knife: 'Like true children of Vegas, the Killers create a simulacrum of an important album, swiping desert rain, Main Streets, devil water and unflattering moustaches from older heroes, but taking no meaning or inspiration from them.' Yowch. But the subtext may well have been this: how dare a bunch of limp-wristed Anglophiles, with their Duran Duran fetish and the audacity to get famous in Britain first, how dare they try to write the Great American Album?

So the four Killers - plus one auxiliary guitarist/keyboard player, Ted Sabley - lope on to the Academy boards with the easy relief of a band coming home. All that unpleasant nay-saying is an ocean away.

The band have actually done away with much of the road-weary guitar troubadour accessorising. Singer Brandon Flowers, the troubled Mormon from Sin City, is in a super-cropped tartan jacket. His synthesiser is perched on a stand whose statuesque clawed foot grasps a ball (surely an outbreak of the band's alleged dry sense of humour). Laconic guitarist Dave Keuning is all foofy hair and interesting tailored jacket.

It's very hard not to get carried along by the jubilation, the lush roar of guitars vying with synthesisers, the bonhomie. One girl sports a fake handlebar moustache, in tribute to drummer Ronnie Vannucci, a bear of a man who almost obscures the big gong behind him. For a band so pumped up on the steroid of Americana, the Killers remain surprisingly direct and unconceited in the flesh. Perhaps next spring's stadium tour will be different, but for now they play their songs loud and straight.

Flowers hasn't turned into Springsteen yet either, preferring a very low-key David Byrne twitchiness to the grandiose gesture. 'Shall we?' he asks simply at the start, but not in a stilted way. The most ostentatious he gets is an effete vogue, or, if movement is really required, a sedate kind of seahorse mating display. At the peak of the encore - where everyone, by previous arrangement, bawls 'I've got soul but I'm not a soldier,' as though it actually meant something - Flowers stands on top of his upright piano, waving the microphone stand around as if he's reeling in a vast fish.

Honestly, the new songs do sound loads better live than they do on CD, as though the very air has made room for them. 'Bling (Confessions Of A King)' thunders in, and you're struck less by the gigantism of its ambitions than the thumping great rhythm (and compassion) rolling around inside it. The song's chirpy synth line is lost in the 18-wheeler-like rumble, as are quite a few of the more delicate touches on other songs tonight. I swear I heard synth horns tooting along on 'Bones' once - the cheapest patina of cred in the book. But where have they gone? Lumbering and inchoate tonight, this latest single is actually one of the weaker songs in the set. But, at volume, much of Sam's Town - 'Bling', 'When You Were Young', 'Read My Mind', 'Reasons Unknown' - is totally convincing: there is important stuff going on here. It may not add up to the Great American Album, but Flowers and his band have every right to deploy the cliches of their land, as long as they are doing something new and useful with them.

And, on balance, they are. Flowers has taken the icy feeling from the Killers' first album and thawed it out, opening up their previously airless club-bound sound to the elements. And they tackle bigger themes - Flowers' father's drinking, horizon-sized regrets and betrayals - with the same gusto as they once did pithy love-gone-wrong songs.

It's just as well that the air has accomodated these super-sized newbies, since the set list tonight is weighted 10 to six in favour of Sam's Town . The insistent disco of 'Somebody Told Me' and plangent New Wave of 'Smile Like You Mean It' from Hot Fuss do stand out like goosebumps amid the thick chest hair of the new songs. But this is now a band with a lot of moods - jealous, snarky, sad, uplifting, epic, questing. 'Mr Brightside' remains one of the best songs this generation has yet produced about the burning indigestion of infidelity.

There are still cracks in the road. We could do without Sam's Town 's 'Enterlude' and 'Exitlude', little circussy bookends whose lyrics ('It's good to have you with us even if it's just for the day,') play a little too sincerely on the blatant lies of casino-hotel hospitality. The stage set clangs confusedly between too obvious - an enormous Sam's Town sign - and too subtle. Is the bunting just bedraggled? Or is it meant to conjure up a quaint Fifties optimism, eaten away by the moths of unfeeling progress?

Hell, maybe it's just bunting. And maybe the Killers have actually made, if not the Great American Album, then a good American album. One with flaws, sure, but one that looks set to grow confidently into its oversized boots