Donnelly: Brandon Flowers at Liberty Hall

The frat boys were loud and drunken.  The gays were hugging and swaying.  And the young kids were trying to score beers without getting caught.  

Weird that what inspired all this was an American Idol style performance, complete with an awkward jump off the speaker stacks.  I can hear the judges:

Paula: "You have such a great voice, but you need to let the audience see you having fun up there."

Randy: "Dog, you got pipes, dog.  But you really need to engage the audience, look them in the eye."

Simon: "Why didn’t you just stick with the Killers?  As a solo project you are not nearly as interesting because you are singing crap that you might hear on this show."

If you didn’t know, Brandon Flowers is the front man and main songwriter for the Killers, the Las Vegas rock band that sold a crapton of records and headlined Coachella last year.  Their hits include “Read My Mind,” “When You Were Young,” and “Mr. Brightside.”  They’ve even been featured in the video games Guitar Hero and Rock Band. But Saturday night at Liberty Hall seemed more like a Disney production than a rock show.

The band was polished to a saccharine glossy shine. The guitar tones were picture perfect, as if controlled by a robot programmed to know statistically what is most pleasing to human ears. The keyboards meshed with the rest of the rhythm section, never missing a beat.  I half expected that, at any moment, Kelly Clarkson might fly in on a wire and incite mass audience synchronized hand clapping.

Flowers performed songs mostly off his recent solo album, “Flamingo.”  He started with the country tinged “On the Floor,” which produced the only imperfection of the night, just a tiny bit of feedback for a split second or two.  The sound guy didn’t let that happen again as the band launched into the single, “Crossfire.”  The crowd was fired up and Flowers wasted little time between songs, moving next to the Spanish guitar themed, “Magdalena.” 

And man, can that boy sing.    

Flowers has a big voice that can be both forceful and sweet.  He showcased his range with country ballads, to pop-rock anthems, to danceable synth, to church organ gospel.  Seamlessly diving from falsetto on down to front-man growl, Flowers commanded Liberty Hall with ease, a venue that must have felt like a rehearsal room after playing the biggest ballrooms in the US and Europe.  Probably one of the best rock singers I’ve seen live, and definitely the most impressive part of the show.

Too bad the songs off his solo album just don’t measure up to the music he and the Killers make.  Instead of offering a more intimate, thoughtful, or nuanced look into the inner workings of a rock star, the songs came off as semi-derivative and clichéd. 

The final song of the night was the Killers hit, “When You Were Young,” played with only a plucked acoustic guitar.  The audience was silent, listening intently as Flowers reminisced, “Sometimes you close your eyes and see the place where you used to live…. When you were young…..” with more feeling than the other thirteen songs combined.

Hopefully his solo career flops so he can get back to that place.

Setlist:

On the Floor, Crossfire, Magdalena, Bette Davis Eyes, Jilted Lovers & Broken Hearts, Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Was It Something I Said?, Hard Enough, Losing Touch, Swallow It, Only the Young, Playing With Fire, The Clock Was Tickin’, When You Were Young

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