The Pacific Coliseum likes punctual starts, I think, because at exactly 7:30 pm, the house lights went out and Tegan and Sara (and band) began playing. At this point in the evening, the General Admission floors are about ¼ full and the seated sections are loosely filled, the lower down, the sparser. The ages are diverse – I see children that look to me to be about 8 years old dancing with their mums, people who definitely remember the ‘80s (maybe even the ‘70s as well), and one guy with a pointy Santa-ish beard I swear had seen his 60th birthday come and go. A further scan of the crowd, and especially in view of my recent Delhi 2 Dublin experience, and I’m thinking this is not where this city’s multiple ethnicities come together musically – this is a predominantly Caucasian audience with just a little diversity. I am seated just off the equivalent of centre ice, on the house left side of the arena. It’s been awhile since I was here last – so long, I can’t remember. Tegan could (if you have trouble telling twins apart as much as I do, she’s the chattier one of the two), she saw Velvet Revolver here. No reaction from the crowd though. Huh. Who would’ve thunk it? The seats are tight on all sides: my knees had less than an inch of room before they touched the seat in front of me, and I’m a rounded up 5’2”!
I knew a number of Tegan and Sara’s songs before-hand so could sing along to a few choruses. What I didn’t know is that with the twins and the band, there are essentially 5 keyboard players and there are usually 2 keyboard players per song, by Tegan, or Sara, or the bass player, or the guitar player, in addition to the actual keyboard player. All in all, it sounded really good balanced against two guitars.
The setlist included Back In Your Head, The Con, Walking With A Ghost, Hell, Living Room, Alligator Tears, Where Does the Good Go, Now I’m All Messed Up, Feel It In My Bones, Closer.
Observations: The Con sounded very strained, Tegan was definitely having problems; Walking With a Ghost was slightly slower than I’m used to but the pace worked nicely; Feel It In My Bones – a full-on synth-pop number and they went for it; Closer I found was a little off-key, flat in parts and a little painful to listen to, which I thought was sad because it is the current single and it’s a really fun song, and with the new CD Heartthrob coming out in January, not the best promotion for it. If I counted correctly, they played 11 songs during their 45-minute set.
I like Tegan and Sara, I really do. I like how their songs can be quirky, I like that they’re not overly long and that they have an ending not a “repeat to fade”. I like the way the twins sound together, I just don’t think this was them at their vocal best. They tried and soldiered on; they made no excuses either, it was what it was and it fell a bit short. I don’t know how long they’ve been on tour, how recently they finished recording their new album, but if this is what normally happens, I would definitely recommend seeing them, albeit earlier in a tour after they’ve had a bit of a rest. They’re absolutely proficient musicians, multi-instrumental, but if you can catch them early enough, you’ll get a more satisfying experience. If you’re not familiar with their music and can navigate pigeonholes, let’s put them in “Indie Synth Pop” for now and see how we go.
They were both very appreciative of the audience and I do think it was reciprocated – there were even some “I love yous” from audience members, not just those in the front few rows on the floors. The audience, I felt, was there for The Killers, some were even wearing T-shirts from past tours like badges of honour (Hello Mr “Europe Tour 2008”).
Confession time: this was at least the 3rd time I’d seen The Killers in concert. The first time (that I can remember, I really don’t keep score) was at V-Fest at UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium in 2007, the second time was at UBC’s Thunderbird Arena in 2009, and now, Pacific Coliseum, late 2012. This is truly one of my favourite bands to see live, they understand the audience needs to be a part of the show. From the very first song, Brandon Flowers engages the audience – he greets them right off the bat, there is opportunity for participation with simple ‘sing-it-back-to-me’ phrases, which is good for new or casual fans who don’t know the lyrics to every single song, even if it is the most recent CD release. They play with the audience – there’ll be an intro that doesn’t sound like the regular/from a CD introduction, a pause, and Flowers asks if there are any guesses as to what’s next – at a Killers show, it is virtually impossible to be passive. You have to stand up because everyone around you is standing and you definitely want to see what’s going on. The lightning bolt from the Battle Born cover is centre stage and the back of it functions as the stand for Flowers’s stacked keyboards. A great way to combine form and function (not to mention the branding!).
The Killers also bring an arena show to an arena tour – their designers are not small thinkers: background imagery (cosmos, earth motifs in white fluffy clouds as well as planetary orbiting, what looked like magma drops sputtering in the heart of a volcano, high-speed highway travelling), multi-coloured lighting effects both from lights above the stage and from elements of the set, pyrotechnics – as upwardly directed flames and the kind that resemble welders’ sparks, confetti, during “Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine”, it seemed like the spotlights (pure white light, no gels) were on speed.
As songwriters, they tend to favour the storytelling tradition, and one of the things that makes Flowers stand out from other front-men is that he’s not only a good storyteller, he’s a credible one; it may not be his own story he’s telling, but he emotes and evokes and it doesn’t seem overblown. He sings it like he means it and the audience believes it. As musicians, they don’t believe in ‘dead air’ – even when Flowers is providing anecdotal background to a song or introducing individual band members, or telling the audience how much they enjoy touring with people like Tegan and Sara – whose music they enjoy and also like them on an inter-personal level, he is being accompanied instrumentally.