The blandest of this year’s Glastonbury headliners, The Killers may also be the best qualified. Stormzy was, until yesterday, untested at this level, and The Cure’s marathon sets sometimes meander. But nobody could deny the Las Vegas titans’ credentials to pull it off – indeed, they already did, way back in 2007, albeit in a set addled by technical difficulties.
If there is a drawback, it’s a matter of character. The Killers are such an archetypal stadium band, so emblematic of the bankable festival band, that it is sometimes hard to believe they are a real band. Brandon Flowers, who has the sort of charisma you would programme into an android concierge, enhances the sense of uncanny. His waxwork smile can’t decide whether to sell you a car or a chorus, and he reliably announces, with corporate pizzazz, the band’s catchphrase: “We’re the Killers, brought to you by way of fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada!” It’s weird, and weirdly magnetic. Tonight, the crowd bellows it along with him.
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Acutely aware of the role nostalgia plays in their viability as headliners, the band open with “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine”, a fan favourite from Hot Fuss. Flowers wears an embroidered, cowboy dinner jacket and high waisted satin trousers. “There’s a lot of great bands, but thanks for betting on us,” he tells the crowd. “I’ve got a feeling it’s about to pay off.” He is smug, outrageous and unfeasibly camp, but when he dives into “Somebody Told Me”, his showman bravado is untouchable.
To the degree that a great festival set is about meting out serotonin, the group – now missing founding guitarist Dave Kuening and bassist Mark Stoermer – hit the mark. Hot Fuss was a fine album, but each burst of joy is now super-concentrated, so that a mid-tier song such as “Smile Like You Mean It” takes on epic proportions. The synth-powered heartland rock of their second album, Sam’s Town, was called overblown on its release, but is now their default setting, and it mostly works. Their latter singles tick the boxes, but there are too many in a row and they dip into flat-pack euphoria. Even Flowers’s dedication to his late mother, the sweet “A Dustland Fairytale”, descends into an anonymous finale.
The encore, in fairness, veers leftfield. First, several men in reflective jackets come on to sweep the stage and tap the mics – one of whom, bizarrely, turns out to be Jimmy Carr. When The Killers emerge, they’re joined by a pair of special guests that draw blank looks from the surprisingly large teen contingent. But when Neil Tennant belts out “Always on My Mind”, everyone sings. The Pet Shop Boys stick around for a duet on “Human”, before Flowers heralds another guest. Johnny Marr slinks on-stage, “This Charming Man” rings out, and everyone goes nuts. “Mr Brightside”, the irreplaceable set closer, for once has competition for the set highlight.
For the duration of their set, the lines had blurred between rapture and cringe. The Killers are now so famous that – despite a gargantuan casual listenership and enduring dominion over party playlists and karaoke booths – few people really have the energy to love or hate them. As the packed crowd poured out, they had the sated looks of the entertained. Some sets are made for the history books; this one was happy to put a smile on your face, if only for one night.