TuneSunday Video Roundup: The Killers and M83 live in Denver

We went to see The Killers at DU last night. A few stray thoughts, in no particular order of importance.

1: There are air raid shelters with better acoustics than Magness Arena. I’m guessing it makes for a suitably noisy hockey barn, but let’s just say that it’s sub-optimal for a concert. Still, the crew managed to make the band sound pretty darned good, all things considered. So a tip of the hat to the sound guys.

2: M83, the opening band, is good. Really good. I didn’t know anything about them before yesterday, but now I think I have a new favorite. Their sound is a hybrid of the currently popular nu wave trend – that neo-80s sound you hear in bands like The Bravery, Bloc Party, Editors, Interpol, The Flaws, The Mary Onettes, She Wants Revenge and, of course, The Killers – and shoegaze (Cocteau Twins, The Catherine Wheel, Space Team Electra, Lush, etc.) A lot of great bands these days are mining one seam or the other, but overlaying them both, that’s something you don’t hear a lot of. The result is wonderfully atmospheric and melodic, like OMD meets early Verve or Kate Bush meets My Bloody Valentine (or Echo & the Bunnymen meet Brian Eno, maybe). Very Kate Bush meets somebody.

I’m downloading their latest, Saturdays = Youth, even as I type.

3: Killers drummer Ronnie Vannucci was never in Spinal Tap, but he should have been. He’s having so much fun back there that at times it’s hard to watch anything else. His every movement, from the time he takes the stage to the time he exits, fist-pumping and flinging drumsticks in all directions, communicate just how much he’s loving the fortuitous turn his life has taken in the last few years.

Let’s just hope he doesn’t spontaneously combust.

4: To the lead singer – who the hell are you and what have you done with the real Brandon Flowers? It’s been noted in various places that Flowers used to have to drink before shows to conquer his stage fright, and I’ve noted elsewhere how hard he seems to have to work at being a front man. He’s not born to the task, and comes off at times as painfully shy. But he does work at it, and part of what makes him as great as he is, I think, is the tension created by his efforts at bridging the gulf between himself and the audience.

So who was this Jaggeresque presence dominating the proceedings last night, then? Holy Xanax, the difference between Flowers now and what I saw as recently as September of 2007 is staggering. He’s still a tad on the quirky side, but at this point that seems almost exclusively a function of a certain physical awkwardness (and even that’s more about mannerism than athleticism; the guy is a good enough golfer that he was once thinking about pursuing it professionally, so we’re not talking dork-boy here by any stretch). The fluency in his approach to the crowd was noticeable immediately, and never wavered throughout the entire 90-minute (give-or-take) set.

Whatever the case, it looks like Flowers is growing as a performer, just as he is as a lyricist, and the process is a lot of fun to watch.

5: I never thought I’d say this about a band that’s as reliant on production technology as The Killers are, but I’m beginning to think they’re better live than they are in the studio. Which is especially strange, given what I say about Flowers in the previous section, I know. But I’ve seen the band in concert twice now, and on both occasions something odd has happened.

Their first two CDs contained tracks that I loved instantly and a couple more than had grown on me, but 30-40% of the material failed to really grab me. Not that it was objectionable, but I could take it or leave it. Then I saw them live at The Fox in Boulder back in 2007, and the performance of many of those songs changed how I related to them. I think I “got” them a lot better in person.

It happened again last night – after seeing some of the new material performed live I like it better than I did before, when all I had was the CD.

Now, some bands are just better live. Jason & the Scorchers (who most of you probably don’t know) were fine in the studio, but no studio ever built could hope to capture the sheer energy of the concert. Cheap Trick is like this, as well. And one of the great cases ever is Graham Parker. Despite the fact that he’s been cranking out five-star albums since the Carter administration, his concerts are superior in about every way imaginable. So there’s nothing new about the idea that a band may just be better in person.

But I’m trying to understand how this is possible for The Killers. In addition to the fact that their lead singer hasn’t (until recently, anyway) exactly been Roger Daltrey on stage, they make ample use of every kind of audio technology imaginable, and these are the kinds of factors that typically define the term “studio band.” Think Toto here.

Still, I’ve trotted the idea past two or three folks who have seen them live and they agree – better live than on Memorex.

I think the reason may have something to do with Flowers’ attempts to connect, both in his own life and as a performer. As noted in my Platinum CDs of 2008 post from this past Tuesday, many of his songs portray a profound alienation, a disconnectedness from convention and from the structures and narratives that are supposed to help us find meaning in it all. It looks, from here, like a deeply felt personal journey for a young artist, and if that’s the case, then the decontextualization of the studio, where not only is there no audience present to reach out to, but there may not even be any other band members around, would represent just one more barrier in the communication dynamic.

Live, though, he can reach out to real people. There’s a presence, and despite the big guys in yellow shirts between him and the front row, there is a venue where some of the barriers, at least, have been rolled away.

Or maybe it’s something else entirely – hard to say. But I’m not imagining how things that fail to click in the studio reproduction do click, and powerfully, in the live show.

The road ahead for The Killers and M83 hopefully runs through a town near you. If it does, and if there are tickets still available, the experience is highly recommended.

And now, for your TuneSunday listening and viewing pleasure:

First, here’s M83 with “Kim and Jessie.”

And The Killers, with “Human.”

What the heck – here’s one more for old time’s sake.

Happy Sunday.

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