Last Night: The Killers at Red Rocks

Categories: Last Night

KillersA.jpg
Photo by Eric Syl Gruneisen

The Killers, Nervous Wreckords
Red Rocks Amphitheater
September 9, 2009
Better than:
Seeing an epic, intricately staged arena show in the confines of an indoor arena.

The Killers did a fine job of summoning the glitz and glamour of their hometown during their appearance at Red Rocks on Wednesday night.

Indeed, the Las Vegas-based quartet's performance summoned the grand scope and dazzling flash of a show on the strip. The band's intricate stage setup included multi-colored neon light displays, white and black leopard print flooring, a massive vase holding a full bouquet of flowers, a series of paneled screens that would flash colorful film clips and a large, flashing letter 'K' in a font straight from the 'Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas' sign.

The flash found a complement in the band's tightly executed tunes, songs informed by synth-pop, early alternative and basic house music sounds that captivated the capacity audience for the two-plus hour set.

Together, the group's poppy appeal and its elaborate stage show lent the night an air of theatricality and lavishness that seemed rare even for Red Rocks. The group's extravagant use of the stage - an approach that included flames, sparks and an explosion of confetti at the end - rivaled any other show I've seen at the massive venue. The only parallels that came to mind were shows I'd seen in the Pepsi Center.

In the end, the epic scope and the undeniable skill of the band made the performance engaging and, in a certain sense, intriguing. Sure, the songs all seemed to tout basic, simple musical structures and sure, the showy sheen of the performance lacked some accessibility. Still, the band knows how to put on a big show in a professional way, and their skill showed at Red Rocks.

San Diego-based quintet Nervous Wreckords opened with about an hour of songs marked by catchy guitar riffs, warm piano tones and benign lyrics.

In tunes like "Dumb Junkie," "Similar But Not the Same" and "Burn It Up," the Wreckords offered some genuinely engaging and interesting moments. Lead singer and guitarist Brian Karscig led the ensemble through some well-phrased melodies, some eloquent guitar and piano lines and some impressive lyrical stretches.

But the group's sound, which added a commercial sheen to a solid base of classic and glam rock cues, had its hits or misses. Specifically, some of the lyrics came off as a little too safe and contrived. The message of "Dumb Junkie," for example, veered straight into the realm of banality with lines like, "Dumb junkie/you cooked up the love that you got."

Overall, the group offered a pleasant set, one that didn't try to compete with the epic scope of the headlining act.

Speaking of which, the hour-long wait between the Wreckords set and the Killers appearance came from the involved process of setting up the stage. Roadies unveiled the huge mounds of equipment that had been covered with black tarps for the opening act, revealing some props, like the huge flower pot, that could have fit in the lobby of a fancy Vegas hotel, and others that could have lit up the front of a casino on the Strip.

After three roadies fiddled with one neon strip on one series of lights for what seemed like days, the stage darkened and that quintet took the stage, supplemented by two extra musicians who filled in the sound with synth and saxophone parts. But before the lights fired up, the huge screen against the back of the red stage beamed the image of a countdown taken from an old film reel.

From the opening performances of "Human," "Spaceman" and "For Reasons Unknown," the band took full advantage of their intricate equipment. Lights flashed, sparks flared from hidden sources on the stage, the screen showed frenetic series of images and the large K that fronted a synthesizer at the front of the stage flickered with white light.

KillersB.jpg
Photo by Eric Syl Gruneisen
The band's performance aligned with the setting. Frontman Brandon Flowers, decked out in a coat with epaulets, dashed about the stage and made dramatic physical motions as he sang and played snippets on the keyboard.

With his steady, insistent vocals rooted in the precedents of a variety of forebears, from Morrisey to Ric Ocasek, Flowers served as the main fulcrum of attention, as Dave Keuning, Mark Stoermer and Ronnie Vannucci Jr. filled out his frantic sound with solid, steady and simple rhythms.

Tunes like "Joyride" benefited from the addition of a baritone sax player, while songs like "Bones" and "Somebody Told Me" seemed enhanced by the big budget and grand production values. The screen flashed clips of animated skeletons and showed a scrolling "Killers" speeding back and forth, and the dazzling array of flood lights and neon was enough to inspire epilepsy.

The Killers even managed to summon the feeling of Vegas' grandiosity in a brief cover of Elvis Presley's "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You."

And the capacity crowd ate up every second of it.

When Flowers launched into an anecdote about arriving in Denver as the band played a shuffling groove before breaking into "Someone Told Me," audience members hollered in encouragement. At the end of the set, as the group finished its pre-encore set with "All These Things That I've Done" and confetti erupted from hidden cannons on the stage, no one seemed ready to leave.
The effect was contagious and disorienting. As I left, I was prepared to exit into a hall full of slot machines and card dealers.

In fact, the effect seemed very much like the hypnotic and confusing impact of Las Vegas. Like all of the rabid fans around me, I had been taken in by the pretty lights, the entrancing imagery and, to be fair, by the band's well-honed sound.

But, like Vegas, I could only spend so much time in the excess and the glitz before I wanted to come home; I spent the car ride home listening to understated trumpet solos by Clifford Brown.

Critic's Notebook
Personal bias:
I wasn't really that familiar with the Killers' catalogue before I came to the show, so I couldn't tell which tunes were the big radio hits and which ones were their more obscure selections.
Random detail: Like a schmuck, Nervous Wreckords frontman Brian Karscig asked the crowd if everyone loved John Elway. Here's a tip - in Colorado, we don't all ski, we don't all ride horses and not all of us idolize former Denver sports figures.
By the way: It takes an agonizingly long time to repair a tiny strip of neon light on a set piece.

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