On Friday, fans of The Killers turned out for a packed show at Spark Arena – the band’s first in New Zealand since 2009. Jihee Junn sat down with drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr before the show.
When Hot Fuss came out in 2004, I was instantly in love. I loved the sparkly synth rock, the touch of Vegas glam, the irreverent lyrics of ‘Somebody Told Me’ that I was definitely too young to understand. I loved ‘Mr Brightside’ and unashamedly still do, so when The Killers opened its Auckland show – its first in New Zealand for almost a decade – with its most popular track, it was more than just a pleasant surprise. It was a carefully curated act.
“I think of it almost like a movie,” says drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr when I ask about the band’s live shows. It’s about an hour before he’s set to hit the stage, and we’re sitting in his dressing room munching on cheddar-flavoured Grain Waves (“they’re kind of like a stale Sun Chip – I’m into it”) with his wife Olivia by his side. ”You’re entertaining people, so it’s got to have these emotional arcs: a beginning, a middle, an end, and maybe a surprise… And in some ways, when you haven’t been to a place for eight or nine years, you almost have something to prove.”
Maybe, but I remind him the band has a huge fanbase in New Zealand – Spark Arena’s 12,000 capacity space is practically brimming at the seams. But Vannucci isn’t taking any chances. He picks up his drumsticks and taps skittishly away at the snack-covered table. “Well, we’re not relying on anything,” he says. “I think we’re just going to get out there and see how it goes. We’ll probably try and give it a little harder.”
And hard they went. After opening with the bang of ‘Mr Brightside’ (marred only by the fact that someone forgot to turn the lights off, which frontman Brandon Flowers politely requested be turned down by the second track), the band launched headfirst into Day & Age-era hit ‘Spaceman’ and glam rock-anthem ‘Somebody Told Me’ (it’s about “trying to meet someone in the club” as I’m old enough to now know). That quickly paved the way for newer tracks like ‘Run For Cover’ which, despite featuring on their latest album, Wonderful Wonderful, was actually written ten years ago during happier times for the band. After all, guitarist Dave Keuning and bassist Mark Stoermer are both MIA for this tour as both members decided to sit this one out.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes to keep everybody in the car,” says Vannucci. “If that means you can’t tour because of health reasons, or because you wanna be with your family, or because you wanna do a fucking bachelor’s degree, that’s fine. Do that. Everyone’s got their reasons. So we understand, but the train’s gotta keep moving.”
Ultimately, while Vannucci serves as the backbone of the band (as most drummers do), it’s Flowers that truly keeps The Killers’ Las Vegas spirit of showmanship alive and well. Dressed in tailored black suit with sequined lapels, 36-year-old Flowers seemed younger than ever on Friday night, galloping across the stage with the utmost bravado and charisma, personified by Wonderful Wonderful’s lead single ‘The Man’ which pokes fun at the machismo invincibility the band felt in its early years.
But for the most part, Wonderful Wonderful, is a record built on introspection. It’s the most personal album Flowers has penned to date, with songs like ‘Rut’ inspired by his wife Tana’s struggle with complex PTSD. “I think the music is a bit more serious and a bit more focused this time because it had to be,” Vannucci explains.
As the show entered its midway point, the band launched into its second emotional arc of the night with Hot Fuss-era hits ‘Jenny Was A Friend of Mine’ and ‘Smile Like You Mean It’. Sam’s Town single ‘For Reasons Unknown’ followed soon after, featuring local fan Amy Claire on drums who, unlike some of the fans the band encountered in Mexico, actually knew how to play.
Their biggest surprise, however, was their choice of cover song. They picked Crowded House’s ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’, and when Flowers struggled to find the right key, the audience was quick to pipe up and take over in a touching moment of spontaneity. Flowers smiled with genuine pleasure and probably, a touch of embarrassment as well.
‘Read My Mind’ and ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ roused the audience once more before Flowers went off for a quick Elvis Presley-inspired costume change. Returning in glittering gold regalia, Flowers and co launched into an encore of ‘Just Another Girl’ and ‘When You Were Young’ as showers of confetti and pyrotechnics rained down on the audience.
“We’re a bit more in touch with our Vegas side as far as production goes,” warned Vannucci beforehand. And judging by the glitz, the glam, and the swaggering bravado, he sure as hell wasn’t kidding.
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