The Killers at Thunderbird Arena

Wildlight at Thunderbird Arena photo

Wildlight at Thunderbird Arena. Melissa Skoda photo

Review – The Killers at Thunderbird Arena, Vancouver, April 24, 2009

– review by Kaitlin Fontana

In the impersonal world of the arena show, it’s pretty rare to encounter the kind of sweet touches that Wild Light tried to give to their opening set for The Killers last night at UBC’s Thunderbird Arena. Yes, that Thunderbird Arena – the one that’s the ice hockey venue for the Olympics.

Visitors to the merch table would have seen an array of shirts and gear hawking The Killers! The Killers! The Killers!, but there was also a little trunk, with a hand-written Wild Light sign, advertising free stickers. Rather than seeming sad (which it totally could have) this humble approach was endearing – and it was a feeling that carried into the set, with Wild Light playing like this were a room full of friends rather than bored frat dudes waiting for The Killers to start.

Wild Light’s particular brand of sweet pop was proffered for the incoming early birds to the sold-out show, and while they battled to win some folks over (I spied a second row boobtastic blonde facing away from the band, texting), they definitely found a few converts in the floor seats, especially with the song “California On My Mind”, which declares “Fuck California, fuck San Francisco,” over a sparkly chorus.

Music video – Wild Light, “California On My Mind”:

There’s a lot of fairly standard lovesick pop at work here, and on the band’s debut Adult Nights, but the twinge of sadness in singer Jordan Alexander’s voice elevates it above the common twee. Alexander reportedly bunked with Arcade Fire’s Win Butler at prep school, so maybe some pop-gravitas wore off on him there.

With a quick set change that included shuffling in some fluorescent lights and palm trees, The Killers arrived looking like they were walking on stage at the Tropicana – a nod to their hometown of Las Vegas, I’d guess. Brandon Flowers, as always, was the main attraction, sleek in a black suit with shiny, feathered shoulders and a pair of impressive, verging-on-goth heeled boots. Flowers is the glam to the rest of his band’s straight-ahead rock, and I would wager a bet that he knows it. They’re the function, he’s the form.

It’s a credit to the band that they understand why people are there to see them. They play to that, opening with the new single “Human” and sprinkling the set with well-placed hits (you know the ones – “Somebody Told Me”, “When You Were Young”, etc.) between other material from their three studio records. The best material was the freshest, especially “This Is Your Life”, a Who-like track that played better live than in album form, with drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. making his job more interesting by adding fills and cascading drum parts that the recorded version skips (or, perhaps, buries).

With a big space crammed with excited folks – an oddly high number of which were middle-aged women – there was little room to fall short, and it only did when Flowers took to posturing, asking “Vancouver, have you ever been in love?” with a breathy, Bono-like bravado that struck as put on  – at least to me. For those that look at Flowers and see a rock god, this might have been charming behaviour. The screams said yes. They got to experience their god in a mid-sized arena setting, which they may never get to do again. And you know what else? For an arena show, the sound was more than decent. This may have been one of the first rock shows in this venue – after Lamb of God – but I’d be surprised if were the last.

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