Let’s begin where we must. Tonight at Governors Ball, with the ground turned to mush by rain and the frat party atmosphere all but extinguished, The Killers open their Governors Ball headline set with “Mr Brightside”. They are supposed to play the song at the end of their set because that is when a band is supposed to play its most popular and iconic song, but they do not do that. Dave Keuning just starts playing that weird little music box riff and then Brandon Flowers seems to be singing along to it and then everybody else is, too. And then they aren’t.
Yep, that’s pretty much how it went. One minute “Mr Brightside” was not playing and then it was playing and now, very shortly after, it isn’t playing anymore. Just like that.
The effect this has is relatively basic: it turns thousands upon thousands of damp people into a gurning chorus, bear hugging the heavy air around them, somehow remembering words that they hadn’t heard in years, words they didn’t know that they ever knew, words that they may now realize don’t make very much sense but words that do, broadly, sort of rhyme in a very satisfying way.
Which is why the Killers are here in the first place—for that automatic response, that moment of uncontrollable participation in something bigger than oneself. They’re not here to try out new stuff or sell you their new record or even to convince the crowd that 2012’s Battle Born was as good as Hot Fuss or Sam’s Town. The Killers are here tonight because they are a festival band. And without The Killers and a handful of other bands like them, there’d be no point in having large music festivals at all.
Think about it: around Randall’s Island’s sprawling grounds today, there were maybe a few dozen people wearing the band’s merchandise. These fans of the band were outnumbered by people wearing blue and white bucket hats, Prince t-shirts, and Cleveland Cavaliers jerseys. Few people here would have spent their money or time going to see The Killers at their nearest mid-sized theatre because, well, there’s other bands to see now; there’s TV to watch.
Yet their audience is huge—as big if not bigger than last night’s crowd for The Strokes—and over an hour and a half or so, they genuinely do inspire some sort of devotion, however fleeting. “Smile Like You Mean It” and “Somebody Told Me” have the same effect that “Mr Brightside” did, that familiar, well-worn melancholy all overlayed with synths and callbacks. Then there’s “Glomorous Indie Rock and Roll,” a lovely, preening, wildly overblown song that nobody seems to know the words to but insists on singing along to anyway. It’s irrepressible, familiar, charming, not challenging.
Brandon Flowers goes through the whole set with a huge smile on his face, embracing his role as the evening’s entertainer-in-chief, making no effort to seem anything less than overjoyed by it all. He’s a performer, a ringleader, rarely if ever being called upon to do more than that. He’s also a brilliant advertisement for the Church of Latter Day Saints and its policies against drugs and alcohol, his Mormon lifesyle preserving him like a flattering waxwork of himself. He seems to age in reverse, a fact that’s only accentuated by the fact his bandmates look roughly ten years older than they did ten years ago.
Sure, there’s filler in the show—there’s no need to cover Interpol, really—but it doesn’t matter much. By the time they get round to “Read My Mind”, everybody seems to have dried out or stopped caring about how wet they are. They walk offstage to “All These Things That I’ve Done” and everyone sings the refrain because have you heard that refrain? Of course everybody sang it.
“We’re not going to come all the way from Las Vegas and not play ‘Jenny Was a Friend of Mine’,” says Flowers during the encore, reminding the crowd of another song that shit, yeah, totally remember that one now. It’s shiny, groove bass still works as it should and Flowers still hits that warbling “Ohohoh” at the end of the chorus. It all closes out with “When You Were Young” and fireworks because that’s how things work.
And then that’s it. One minute The Killers were not playing, then they were playing and now, with firework smoke in the air above the stage, they are not. And that’s just fine.