What does the landscape of the American west sound like? Something like the music of The Killers, the band whose songs have the broad sweep, the widescreen horizons and the epic scale of their home state of Nevada and neighbouring California, Utah and Arizona. It’s a big sound that’s become even bigger on their recent album, Battle Born, and it sounds right at home in arenas such as the O2, where, on the first of two nights in London, the band’s riffs, refrains and choruses had ample space to swirl, bounce and cascade.
It took The Killers a while to achieve this state of noisy, febrile bliss: a so-so start to the show could perhaps be ascribed to a certain reticence on the part of singer Brandon Flowers, who’d had to cut short a concert in Manchester earlier in the week after his voice packed up (in the event, his vocals were absolutely fine on the night). Flowers’ demeanour didn’t help: an odd-looking rock star with his neat, slicked hair and his smart-casual garb, to begin with he patrolled the stage like a TV game-show host.
But incrementally, as the band – expanded from a foursome to a six-piece for this tour – went through the gears, as the volume levels rose and the hits came thicker and faster, Flowers stiffened his sinews, fixed his gaze and began to push his voice into the zone of near-hysteria. “Human”, with its pulsing synths, was warm and urgent; “All These Things That I’ve Done” had the crowd singing along to its fabulously meaningless refrain (“I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier”); and “Runaways”, from the new album, proved itself an instant air-punching Killers classic. Meanwhile a cover of Oasis’s “Don’t Look Back in Anger” was a reminder of The Killers’ anglophile tendencies.
By now, Flowers was in full flow, singing his songs of escape, desperation and broken dreams with that familiar vibrato in a voice that showed no signs of frailty, culminating in a breathless, delirious “Mr Brightside”. Visually, too, the show had thoroughly warmed up: the video screen exploded with images of magma showers, while fireworks rained down on to the stage, confetti was blasted into the air and flashbombs seared 36,000 retinas. An excitable crowd responded to this ferocious audio-visual onslaught by almost matching the band for volume. The Killers, it seems, have not lost their killer instinct.