The Killers: Battle-Tested in Nashville

The Killers blended hits, rarities, and covers for a majestic show in Music City, USA
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Alright, so eight years after seeing the video for "Somebody Told Me" back when MTV could still be bothered to show, you know, music, I finally got to see The Killers, and I was not disappointed.

The Las Vegas, Nevada-based quartet played a show in support of their fourth studio album, Battle Born on Sunday night at the Grand Old Opry House in Nashville - Music City, USA as it is rightly known - and if you will forgive me a mild pun, the New Wave/dance-pop rockers lived up to their name.

The 4,400-seat venue was packed to the rafters for a rare show by The Killers in the South, which was a late addition to the band's world tour. The enthusiastic, early arriving crowd got its money's worth. The band hit the stage at 9:20 p.m. focused and tight, with little banter and less space between songs. The warm theater did little to dampen the band's energy, with frontman Brandon Flowers stalking the lip of the stage and drummer Ronnie Vannucci furiously pounding away night at a frenetic pace that would make Keith Moon himself proud.

The fast-paced, dizzying show got off to an understated start, with Flowers taking a seat behind the keyboard to start the show with a gorgeous "Enterlude," a brief invocation of sorts from 2007's brilliant Sam's Town. As Flowers crooned

"We hope you enjoy your stay

It's good to have you with us,

even if it's just for today ..."

the anticipation built as the band kicked in with the 2005 megahit "Mr. Brightside." The high-energy show lifted off from there and built momentum with "Spaceman" from Day & Age and "The Way It Was" from Battle Born.

There's something deeply satisfying about a band playing one song from each of its four studio albums to open a concert, showing that while they are there to sell the soap, they know what the fans came to hear and what their strengths are.

The two-hour, 21-song set had a few lulls - I think everyone needed a break here and there - but featured a balanced setlist of five songs each from Hot Fuss, Sam's Town and Battle Born, three from Day & Age and three covers for good measure. More on that in a moment.

As with any good show, the band cleverly mixed old and new with album cuts and covers. Most of the band's singles, including "Somebody Told Me" and "Human" were present, but also included were fan-favorites "Bling (Confessions Of A King)," "For Reasons Unknown" and "Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine" -- each played with a ferocity that made them impossible to discern from the hits.

Flowers channeled his inner Bono by introducing an odd cover choice, "I Think We're Alone Now," with "This is a song Tiffany stole from Tommy James and Shondells, we're stealing it back ..." before launching into a fine version of the teeny-pop standard. The band also dusted off its cover of the Joy Division cut "Shadowplay" and, because no show in Nashville would be complete without it, tipped their hats to The Man In Black with a snippet of "Ring Of Fire."

The Killers are particularly skilled at churning out anthemic rockers that build to climaxes that leave the listeners pounding their fists and screaming along at the tops of their lungs. The band did an excellent job of sequencing a series of these foot-stompers toward the end of the show. The main set closed with "Read My Mind," "Runaways" and "All These Things That I've Done," kicking the show"s energy into an even higher fever pitch. "Read My Mind" was particularly powerful, with Flowers leading the crowd in a sing-along. The night closed with another made-for-live-shows rocker, "When You Were Young," that saw Flowers trading lines with the crowd.

For all that they did right, The Killers deserve to have a couple of points deducted from their final score for dropping the two best songs from Battle Born, the album opener, "Flesh and Bone" and its closer "Battle Born." The former was dropped earlier in the tour in favor of new material, while the latter was apparently left off because its stage presentation includes pyro that might not have been well-suited for the Opry House. Its exclusion was a missed opportunity to send the show into the stratosphere one last time.

At some point in my concert-going life, just by law of averages, I am going to have a bad experience in Nashville, but after seeing The Killers last night, Music City remains undefeated as my favorite city to see a show. I've seen bands in arenas, stadiums and concert halls, and no matter the venue, Nashville always delivers the goods.

To sum, The Killers brought the energy and the songs, along with an entertaining light show that augmented the performances without being a distraction. The Killers are a band that wears their influences and passion on their sleeves, and the result is a live show not to be missed.

The Killers - Grand Old Opry - May 13, 2013 - Setlist

  1. Enterlude                 
  2. Mr. Brightside       
  3. Spaceman             
  4. The Way It Was        
  5. Smile Like You Mean It
  6. Bling (Confession Of A King)
  7. Shadowplay (Joy Division cover)
  8. Miss Atomic Bomb
  9. Human
  10. Somebody Told Me
  11. I Think We're Alone Now (Tommy James cover)
  12. Here With Me
  13. For Reasons Unknown
  14. From Here On Out (Brad Paisley guests)
  15. A Dustland Fairytale
  16. Ring Of Fire (Cash cover)
  17. Read My Mind
  18. Runaways
  19. All These Things That I've Done
    ENCORE
  20. Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine
  21. When You Were Young