LIVE REVIEW: The Killers at Emirates Old Trafford

Almost four years had passed since the Las Vegas, Nevada group had played a show in the North West, until they brought their Imploding the Mirage tour to Manchester, at the Lancashire County Cricket Club grounds, in Old Trafford. The Killers’ star continues to rise with each new tour, since 2017 when they played Manchester Arena to 21,000 and the following year to a stadium of 34,000 in Bolton, and then to return, just this weekend, to play a 50,000 capacity. The numbers are big. It’s a steep ascent, but also, it’s one that came naturally. What can we say, stadium rock doesn’t come quite as blistering or glistening as The Killers. They know what they’re selling and the people know what they deliver—it kind of makes it easy, doesn’t it.

Across a lifetime there’s a likelihood that a person will have fallen upon the wares of this group. The significance of their music’s impact cannot be downplayed or overstated, pop culture is forever changed by their magnetic exuberance and modest stalwart. We often speak of the American dream and how music can be transformative, and in the hands of The Killers, this seems possible, or at least as likely as it could ever be. Songs like ‘Human’ and ‘Mr Brightside’ don’t just happen to any band, they’re fought for, crafted, shaped by the skills of their makers. It’s a gift to the world, and they teach us about our own inherent capacity to live, to love, to be loved, to give, and to find understanding. The beauty of a catalogue like theirs is that it keeps on growing every few years, with a new album, a new tour, new ears, new experiences—it’s a legacy that continues to inspire and becomes richer with each breath it takes. So—to see a stadium-sized crowd gather for a show of this magnitude, after two years of waiting, was really a beautiful and special thing. And they delivered with plenty of amazing, unforgettable music and a stage show that really does go the extra mile.

There’s touches of the spectacular within the show’s production: Pyro, confetti cannons, streamers, giant LED screens, video installations, all kinds of lighting and even laser beams. It’s what’s good about The Killers that they can easily rock up to a dive bar and play to a buzzing crowd of 500 and it be the best night of your life, and on the opposite side, they’ll play to thousands and equally wow the socks off everybody there, not just by the power of what that size of scale brings but by sheer talent alone. Flowers’ voice never crumbles, his imitable enthusiasm and raw zest can instantly lift a mood or send one dizzy or just simply coax an all-out sing along. It’s masterful when you think about it. And when a set list, like this one, boasts as much versatility and range as it does, spanning across eras and decades, it hammers home just how incredible and important this band’s music has been and is in our lives. It must be difficult to know where to go with a set list at this point, as inevitably there will be songs that won’t make the cut, due to recent album tracks taking priority as well as the vast array of songs they have to their name. I don’t envy the position they must be in. But while some songs may be missed, that’s never a reason to be down in the dumps because pretty much all the big hits are played and those towering anthems never miss a beat.

The songs we do hear from Imploding the Mirage offer grandiose Americana, they sound amazing in this context and are played bigger than the record. ‘My Own Soul’s Warning’ opens and sets the tone with bursts of confetti landing just right. “Manchester. The Killers,” Flowers shouts as they launch into the early reams of the set. “I’ve got a feeling about tonight.‘Caution’ is nestled near the end, and sings with colour, delivering a dose of their signature storytelling to the masses. ‘Fire in Bone’ is a glorious flurry of funk complete with gold confetti, and it’s sweetly sentimental, a nice change of pace.

The old classics land thick and fast; ‘Jenny Was A Friend of Mine’ is all about that bass line, ‘Shot at the Night’  is a bonafide ’80s bombastic beauty, ‘Smile Like You Mean It’ has all the indie revelry we could ever need, ‘Somebody Told Me’ benefits greatly from the drum sound on the night. It hits so well in the mix. ‘All These Things That I’ve Done,’ equipped with red and white streamers, is motivational, and is the ultimate chanting song. Flowers intros this with a declaration to all the supporters out there: “We’ve been coming here since September 2003 … When we first came here, we were good and we knew it, but we didn’t know was whether or not you were going to agree with us, or not. But you did. Thank God, you did. Manchester is a special place for us and a lot of our musical heroes come from this place, and this is hallowed ground, and this is an honour for us to play such a huge gig for you tonight. Thank you for coming and believing in us. Thank you so much.

In the moments where they drop the script and speak one-on-one with various personalities from the crowd, that’s where they really shine, that’s where we’re truly met by the real ‘soul’ of the Killers. When they step outside of the stage glow and let themselves genuinely connect with their audience. Here, it’s not Brandon Flowers ‘charismatic chameleon,’ or Ronnie Vannucci Jr. ‘badass drummer,’ they’re humans, just reaching out in a sea of people. It’s grounding, it’s real. It’s relatable. In these moments, you see exactly why and how it’s possible that the band has lasted this long and made it this far—it is led by passion, not just for music, but for the people it sings for and the people it sings to. A humble obligation.

We see this during a touching tribute to their musical heroes, Joy Division, as they sing a version of ‘Shadowplay’. Flowers stops the initial first take as he spots a person in the crowd that might be in need of assistance, he jokes with tenderness: “Crowd surfing over 70 is not suggested, my man. Is he ok? [he asks security,]” only to jump off-stage to greet the man, to give him a hug. “Billy was trying to crowd surf. He looks about 69/70 years. I said, ‘Billy, what are you doing?’ He said, ‘I’m enjoying me-self.‘” And just like that, everything resumes and it’s even more euphoric because of what just happened. In some respects, The Killers covering music by their idols in their home city is the best gift they could ever give. They somehow reshape the song, magic away the darkness to find something more anthemic and joyous about it. It’s probably a trick that only a fan of the band could ever enact.

In ‘For Reasons Unknown,’ Brandon picks up the bass and Ronnie takes the guitar so they can invite a crowd member up to drum—tonight’s guest is Kacey. It may be a televised bit that fans in the know expect and entertain, but these types of things are what makes shows of this size work. Spontaneous moments drive live shows, and opening up a slot in the band to play alongside them is a real treat as well as a daunting prospect, it’s open to chance every night (if it actually pays off) and sometimes it’ll work—this time, it did. And we celebrated together.

Even though there was ample to keep everybody entertained, the set list on this night felt like it lacked pizzazz at times, and this is only at very intermittent points, I stress. A glaring song that was curiously left out and severely missed was, ‘The Man.’ Where was ‘The Man’? Justice for ‘The Man,’ we say. But all silliness aside, The Killers still remain undoubtedly one of the most entertaining live bands out there. They’re there for the dreamers, the pessimists, the optimists, the realists; the people. And we’ll never stop loving them for that reason. To echo Ronnie’s words last night, “You’re too important to leave without me saying thank you for this.”

The Killers’ Imploding the Mirage tour continues June 14th for two back-to-back dates at Malahide Castle, Dublin, Ireland.

Photo Credit: Rob Loud

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Charlotte Holroyd
Editor, Creator and Founder of Bitter Sweet Symphonies. A lover of music and cinema, who's constantly attending gigs and in search of a great experience.

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