In 2020, American veterans of the modern rock scene, the Killers, released their finest work yet, the deliciously Springsteeny Imploding the Mirage. Well, two years later and they’re finally on tour to promote it. I got the chance to make a last-minute, spur-of-the-moment trip to London, and see them on the second of two nights at the colossal Emirates Stadium, for what was to be the best gig I’ve ever seen.
The sheer scale of Emirates Stadium is impossible to overstate. As I made my way to the front, no more than twenty metres from the stage, the excitement shot through the crowd like a bolt of electricity. An hour later, and the support for the Killers’ London dates came onstage, none other than Newcastle’s Sam Fender – one of the biggest names in rock music today.
Fender was the perfect fit for a band like the Killers, splicing Springsteen-esque, rooted Americana with the UK’s indie rock scene of the early 2000s. As Fender rifled through a ten-song set, belting out such hits as ‘Will We Talk?’, ‘Getting Started’ and ‘The Borders’, he only sounded better and better. I knew of the musician at this point, but not much of his music, admittedly. Already I found myself being converted.
Fender proved a likeable character from the get-go, announcing numerous times throughout the warm-up set that he was ‘shitting himself, like’ at the concept of performing for over 60,000 baying fans. He also proved his talent as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist, often shredding with the best of them. And as we got to the biggest hit of his career, ‘Seventeen Going Under’ from his 2021 album of the same name, the stadium was roaring with energy.
Then, before long, the majestic cover of Imploding the Mirage graced the arena screen, and the band took up their positions for the set opener, ‘My Own Soul’s Warning’. …Mirage is an album that was built for a live, stadium environment, and as soon as the pulsing synth erupted from the stage, it was impossible to doubt the band’s resonance with the British crowd, nearly two decades on from their seminal debut.
Frontman Flowers was every inch the charismatic rock god, clad in bespoke, golden suit, hair slicked back and leaping about like the crowd’s energy was his drug of choice. We were treated to the early-noughties gem of ‘When You Were Young’, before blasting straight through to ‘The Way It Was’, unmistakable in its iconic opening riff. At every opportunity, Flowers paused to let the stadium chant back to him – a call and response I’ve never seen anywhere else. The man’s mastery over an audience is captivating.
Fans of Hot Fuss went crazy for ‘Smile Like You Mean It’, just as the group kicked into ‘Shot at the Night’, a favourite among the live masses. Brandon Flowers is one of those frontmen whose voice doesn’t age; if I shut my eyes, I could swear I was listening to a recording.
Several songs later, and the band treated us to a track from their latest album, Pressure Machine, recorded immediately after Imploding the Mirage and released a mere year later. ‘Higher powers, higher powers, higher powers…’, a playback excerpt said aloud, giving me enough time to gasp before the Killers decided it was high time for ‘Cody’ to get a UK debut. The night before, the group offered up the title track from Pressure Machine, a track that, despite all the best intentions, failed to win over a stadium crowd.
‘Cody’, meanwhile, hooked them in with bolts of rebellious fervor and teenage vandalism, with the apathetic ‘For Reasons Unknown’ proving the next big hit. It’s standard practice at Killers shows for the band to invite someone up from the audience to drum for them during the Sam’s Town single. And here, Josh got his time to shine, giving drummer Ronnie Vanucci a run for his money. As Flowers slammed down in a rare moment of playing bass onstage, it was a highlight of an already biblical event.
‘A Dustland Fairytale’ was every bit as beautiful as it deserved to be, with the entire stadium burning bright in a sea of 60,000 synthetic torches. Guitarist Theodore Sablay and Flowers got together for an intimate moment onstage, reciting a cover of ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’, before the storm-kissed iconography of …Mirage came up once more.
A UK debut of ‘My God’ – quite possibly my favourite from Imploding the Mirage, and a track I never thought I’d see live. It was just as big, bombastic and beautiful as its studio sibling, pulsing on all cylinders. ‘Runaways’, ‘Read My Mind’ and ‘Dying Breed’ were just further proof that the Killers know what to take to the stage, and what to throw away. The setlist was like one long sermon, pulling in the congregation with every chord, every synthesized solo, every earthy drumbeat.
‘Caution’, quite possible my favourite Killers track, was up next, with an electrifying solo (performed by Lindsey Buckingham on the record) that made the absolute pinnacle of the whole night. Axe-man Sablay was illuminated by a curtain of sparklers behind him; the stench of smoke thick in the air and adding urgency to an already thunderous scene.
The main set closed with ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’, a crowd favourite and surefire way to keep your crowd hypnotized for the encore. As Flowers belted the iconic ‘I got soul/ But I’m not a soldier’ refrain, I’d never heard such a titanic amount of people all under the same banner, shouting at the top of their lungs in a chorus, as if the very apocalypse was upon them. ‘I’m so much older than I can take,’ sings the vocalist, though you wouldn’t know it; looking younger and better than the Flowers of 2004.
‘The Man’, the leading single from 2015’s Wonderful Wonderful was perhaps the most cinematic event of the entire gig, with a deliciously crafted backdrop lighting up the night; Michelangelo’s David waited on, hand and foot, by various depictions of marbled angels. Flowers once more got a chance to show off his class and decorum, flirting on the right side of taste and driving the crowd insane.
By the time we got to the electro-anthem of ‘Human’, it was as if the band were showing off. How many groups can truly do a nigh-two hour set that doesn’t see one bad song come up throughout? Such a feat takes skill, luck, and a whole lot of persistence.
As Flowers neared the end of his nightly ritual, he let out that inner preacher in full force, ‘Now, I said this last night, but I feel compelled to say it again,’ – in case there was any doubt, if the man wasn’t a singer, the clergy would be his calling. The amount of emotion and power one man can exude in his speech is unrivalled, as Flowers released the unbridled joy of a band that know bitterness and rejection all too well, now at the top of their game and commanding stadiums.
The band told us how the Americans never got them in the early days, how they were turned down by every major record label in the US, but tried the UK in one last, desperate attempt at success. And we welcomed them graciously. All these years later, they’ve never forgotten that; thankful as they ever have been for headlining Emirates and performing to millions every year.
‘Mr. Brightside’ got the 50/50 treatment, with the first half of the song enacted live in the style of Jacques Lu Cont’s remix, the latter half a callback to the indie-rock, sweaty nostalgia fest of the early noughties. The stadium drew upon the last of their reserves for one last, screaming hurrah. And then, just like that, the night was over. Gone in the blink of an eye.
I was nervous about this gig. It was spontaneous for me, and the sheer size of it sent anxiety through my veins like icewater. The waiting drew out for years, and the growing terror of navigating London at night was already preying on my mind. But the Killers at Emirates Stadium is by far the best concert I’ve ever been to, and more importantly, the best live experience. It is a meticulously well-honed set of nearly two hours; anthem after howling anthem, with every member of the band giving it their all.
Flowers jumps and runs about with the bright-eyed energy of a young child, preaching endlessly to the masses and reveling in every moment; more in his element in front of several thousands than he ever could backstage. I never thought I’d be see the Killers live so soon, especially as they were touring my favourite record of theirs – one of the best albums in recent history. They were everything I could have ever hoped they were and more. But what would you expect from a group out of fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada?