The Killers With The Lemon Twigs; Imploding The Mirage Tour: Schottenstein Center; Columbus, OH; Tuesday, March 21, 2023
Early in The Killers’ set on Tuesday night, the second official day of Spring, the band’s lead singer and front man, Brandon Flowers announced that when the band has played here in the past, it was always at the “PromoWest Pavilion,” saying adamantly that “when we play Columbus, it’s always at the PromoWest Pavilion.” Then smiling as the lights came up to reveal most of the seats filled in the nearly full arena, he asked with his Cheshire grin, “Does this mean we’re a big deal?”
Earlier, the band had come to the stage over the haunted sound of voices that opening “My Own Soul’s Warning,” the opening track of the 2020 release “Imploding the Mirage,” which gave the tour its name. The album’s cover art on the large backdrop screen behind the darkened stage, with the large sideways “8” that signifies “infinity,” which hold Flowers’ keyboard set-up, was glowing with lights at the front edge of the stage. Once the band hit their marks, the band’s long-time drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. led the band into the heart of the epic rocker as confetti cannons filled the air again and again, as Flowers stalked the stage, and sang the key line that “I just wanted to get back to where you are.”
Then Flowers went to his keyboards and played a shmaltzy welcome, perhaps imitating the numerous showmen he’d encountered in his hometown of Las Vegas, singing “We hope you enjoy your stay… even if it’s just for the day,” which led into “When You Were Young.” Then following that line about the guy who “doesn’t look a thing like Jesus,” and the synth-pop of “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,” Flowers put on his best preacher’s voice to announce, “If you came for rock & roll, you came to the right place.” Asserting that The Killers had you covered, as guitarist Ted Sablay began playing the guitar lead intro to “Smile Like You Mean It,” which was followed by “Shot at the Night” and “Running Towards a Place.”
Besides Flowers and Vannucci, the rest of the band on stage as The Killers was largely made up of folk who’ve been touring together since 2018, although Sablay, who serves as bandleader, and bassist Jake Blanton have been on board since 2011. In support roles, Robbie Connolly played various keyboards and additional rhythm guitar, Taylor Milne played rhythm guitar as well, the two adding to the band’s lush, full sound throughout, with two female backup singers, Erica Canales and Amanda Brown. And I know the old saying that “If it’s too loud, you’re too old,” but The Killers was amazingly loud. We had seats at the back of the arena, farthest from the stage, and we still felt the solid vibrations from the bass all during the show, it was not so loud as to be a problem but if it was that loud on our side to that large room, it’s hard to imagine how loud it must have been down in front of the stage.
The electronic new wave vibe of “Human” was introduced by an alien/computer voice asking “Are we human?” then as they performed the song, the large screen was filled with individual cards, with filmed actors inside. It’s worth noting how that screen and the smart filming of the band, or use of video or photography contributed to the vibe and experience of The Killers live performance, making even those on the far side of the arena into the emotions and energy of the band playing.
And one effect of the full, layered, and very loud mix, was the way many of these songs ran together, and sounded almost too familiar to one another. The visual dynamics and Flowers’ stage-prowling presence certainly held one’s attention, but after a while it was difficult to differentiate one song from the next. Thankfully, they thought to change up the formula a bit on “Spaceman,” with a fun instrumental exchange between the drummer and bass player, trading brief, fast solo sections back and forth, including Sablay on guitar eventually. Which led quickly into “Somebody Told Me,” the early single that first broke The Killers on numerous radio formats with it’s quirky take on modern day romance and gender roles. While the fans had been noticeably singing along with Flowers on earlier tracks, on this catchy chorus they sang with enough gusto to be heard.
At this point, with the traditional “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada” sign on the big screen, Flowers reminded the audience where The Killers were from, which led into the keyboard focused ballad, “Be Still,” with it’s admonition to “don’t break character,” something the often smiling Flowers maintained throughout, even when offering a bit of humble self-awareness. I can’t remember the exact moment, but probably when he was flashing one of his wide show-biz smiles, the singer reminded me strongly of Tom Cruise, but with a better voice of course.
Vannucci launched the band into “The Way It Was” with a bit of a drum solo, but the song soon became a sing-along with the audience fully engaged. As it was winding down, Flowers quieted the band to simmer and told the audience that before coming on there had been some worries about his singing voice, but once the band hit the stage it all came right back. Telling the audience how much he cared, he said “It’s a frightening thing, I just want to do good for you,” to which the crowd responded widely. Flowers introduced the band, calling the bass player Blanton a Midwesterner, and called Milne, Vannucci, and Sablay “desert rats,” indicating they came from the same part of the country as he did.
They followed with “boy” the band’s latest single, which led into “A Dustland Fairytale,” which gave Flowers a chance to solo on keyboards, while the song developed like a Springsteen story-song rocker. As Milne started finger-picking an acoustic guitar the intro to “Runaway Horses,” which was originally recorded with vocal support from Phoebe Bridgers,” Flowers asked the crowd “do you like country music,” even though it was more of an acoustic rock ballad. The setlist in Columbus pretty much followed the same pattern night after night, with a series of songs together with visual prompts, designed to move toward a big show ending climax. They played “Runaways,” continuing to echo Springsteen’s E Street Band, the crowd singing out on the “can’t wait till tomorrow” refrain, followed by “Read My Mind” and “Dying Breed.” During “Caution” Flowers relinquished the stage to Sablay, who played extensive solos on both sides of the stage, while pyrotechnic streams of bright sparks dropped from the top and rose from the bottom of the stage. They ended the show’s main set, with “All these Things That I’ve Done,” the band rocking hard while the confetti cannons unloaded paper streamers into the sky to drop on those standing on the floor, the crowd singing out that “I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier.”
The Killers returned with a two-song encore, and every visual effect in their quiver. Flowers flaunted his masculinity in “The Man,” and lasers returned to light us the arena for “Mr. Brightside,” capping off a fine showing from Flowers and The Killers’ first major arena tour, and entre into “the big time.”
We could hear the band’s main guitarist, Ted Sablay playing a singer-songwriter solo set as we entered the venue, but by the time we got to our seats, he was finishing up. At the appointed start time of 8 pm, we were treated to a fun 35 minute set from The Lemon Twigs, a Long Island band fronted by the two D’Addario brothers, who both sing, play guitar and write songs. Their 9 song set opened with tunes in the jangly guitar pop rock vein, with lush sibling vocal harmonies, and melodic guitar soloing reminiscent of the Jayhawks meets Tom Petty, as in their recent video, “In My Head.” Half way through their set, one of the brothers switched positions with the drummer who played rhythm guitar, while the other brother put down his guitar and played bass, so the bass player could move to a synthesizer keyboard. These songs had a 50’s early rock & roll feel, although played with youthful, modern day rock spirit. The returned to their original positions and instruments for another fun, pop rocker, “Foolin’ Around,” and then closed the set with a fast, brash punk song, “Leather Together.” We’re going to hear more from these Lemon Twigs, to be sure.
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