The Killers Channelled Their Idols at Self-Described "Superspreader Event" in Toronto

Scotiabank Arena, September 23

With Johnny Marr

Photo: Anton Corbijn

BY Tom BeedhamPublished Sep 24, 2022

"We hope you enjoy your stay / It's good to have you with us / Even if it's just for the day." Standing preacher-like at a keyboard console rigged with a confetti cannon and an LED infinity symbol that looked right off the Vegas strip, Brandon Flowers borrowed the sepia hospitality and retroactive intro of "Enterlude" to address the crowd at Scotiabank Arena with a mile-wide grin: "We hope you enjoy your stay / Outside the sun is shining / It seems like heaven ain't far away."

This time of year, the sun starts to set around 7 p.m. in Toronto, and, by the time the Killers walked onstage it was already past 9 p.m., but it was a charming sentiment — and besides, it makes a pretty good intro to "When You Were Young" that's worked since they did it on Sam's Town.

That the Killers have even built a tradition out of playing "Enterlude" directly into "When You Were Young" might be the perfect embodiment of their contradictory and often ambivalent relationship to time and history. Sliding slickly from post-punk and new wave to synthpop and Springsteen, the band makes a meal of appropriating aesthetics without acknowledging the conditions they emerged in response to — a perspective their touring opener Johnny Marr built a career in opposition to.

Walking out to a recording of Hans Zimmer's "Time" theme from Inception, the former Smiths guitarist opened to a sparsely filled arena while fans still trickled in, offering eight songs split evenly between originals and others borrowed from his previous work in the Smiths and Electronic. "Panic" and its technophobic solution to alienating ahistoricity ("Hang the DJ, hang the DJ, hang the DJ") chased the hourglass-watching dread of "Armatopia"; audience request "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" offered the hope of continuity and solicited a call-and-response chorus from the crowd; and when Marr introduced "Getting Away with It" (yes, Marr and Bernard Sumner's Morrissey-clowning hit is still in rotation, so cool your hopes up on a reunion anytime soon), Marr swiftly placed it in its geopolitical and temporal context, saying, "This is a disco song from Manchester, Europe."

Closing his set with an extended rendition of "How Soon Is Now?" Marr left the crowd buzzing, but all the track's talk of sons and heirs also put the Killers, and their place in the punk/post-punk/revival continuum, into heightened focus.

In such close proximity to some of the humanity that inspired them, it made sense when the Killers kicked off their set in Springsteen mode, blasting the crowd with confetti and manufacturing some distance before letting Marr's influence and associations trickle in. 

Summoning the stadium to its feet with their 2020 soul searcher "My Own Soul's Warning," the band repurposed the towering, twinkling nostalgia of the Boss's Americana like so much Vegas pastiche before dispensing the Sam's Town move and transitioning into the more post-punk-indebted stuff of Hot Fuss. "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" owed an obvious debt to Smiths bassist Andy Rourke and his work on "Barbarism Begins at Home," the latter's social commentary only gestured at.

Pausing the action early in the set, Flowers commented on the novelty of performing before stadium audiences again, and, as a gesture of thanks, gave them whiplash.
"We are not isolating tonight, this is a superspreader event!" Flowers declared before taking a beat. "We spread peace, love, and rock 'n' roll."

A cursory search for "Killers" and "superspreader" reveals that edgy bit has been part of the set since at least as far back as the band's May 2022 performances, with some understandably vocal fan objection, proving Flowers might be even more divorced from a material reality than the band's nostalgically postured vignettes of contemporary living. 

The band's reluctance to lock into a specific sound didn't help the situation, frequently leading them to interrupt well-earned crowd energy. "For Reasons Unknown," the time-tested fan favourite that picks someone out of the audience to play drums, solicited a virtuosic performance from "Tom from Toronto" (not this writer, I promise you) that had the room in the palm of the band's hand, more than eager to shine their phone lights on "A Dustland Fairytale" following it, even after Flowers made a weird inference about "where my light comes from." The singer reliably induced groans between songs, quoting Helen Keller and even fumbling a thanks to Johnny Marr when the band brought him back onstage during the encore to perform a cover of the Smiths' "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before" and their finale 50/50 version of "Mr. Brightside."

But anything goes in a place like this.

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