Ah, the unlikely scorching humidity of a summer in the city’s walled garden. After last year, there’s even a modest air of tension to a day out at the now annual mini-festival, even if the line up immediately washes away any risk of a repeat of last year’s problems. 2013’s acts instead attempt to embrace stadium-scale headliners and enchanting underbills.
Haim, for example, are perhaps the most loveable newcomers to grace our shores in some time. The sisterly set-up continues to make waves in their efforts to become the world’s most successful band not to have released an album, and in tracks like ‘Falling’ and ‘Forever’ as well as a brilliant line in live bass face, they’re instantly compelling. Today’s short and loved-up set is crammed with charming harmonies and witty banter, the sunny vibes piled still higher by their determined effort to meet an entire site’s worth of fans afterwards. Haim, in fact, even have their own besotted Irish fan club already. You already knew they were ones to watch, though, right?
It’s the middle of the bill, in fact, that disappoints slightly. Two Door CInema Club can be a sensationally good live band, but having played to larger audiences than tonight’s as headliners, there’s a staleness to the performance today. Perhaps its mid festival season fatigue: most of the hits are present and correct, but they’re delivered without the spark that can heave Two Door shows into the stratosphere, and at times seems a bit ‘going through the motions’. Then again the Bangor lads have long since got used to evening slots, so today is an odd aside; lively renditions of ‘Sun’ and ‘Sleep Alone’ aren’t quite enough to really convince.
Frank Ocean – seemingly oddly positioned amongst the other acts and on the bill – is the day’s curveball, with his recent coming out having become his major talking point, the respect it’s won is unneeded: his brand of mellow hip-hop can comfortably speak for itself. Ocean can come across as hip-hop’s answer to James Blake: he’s hugely chilled next to the majority of the genre, often oblique and not necessarily immediately arresting. The set splits the crowd down the middle: lots opt for beers at the back, but when the likes of ‘Bad Religion’ waft out over the nodding front rows, it all makes a whole lot of sense. The early evening slot does work, though, serving up a soothing, calm before the storm vibe that is lost on some of the rock fans present, but nevertheless captivating. A case, perhaps, of a great artist in slightly the wrong setting.
When the headliners finally make their way out, there can’t be a happier man in Ireland than Brandon Flowers. There are already suggestions that the Killers‘ various side-projects might be on the way back – drummer Ronnie Vannucci tells us before the show that future plans are fairly up in the air – so perhaps its simply a case of enjoying the ride while he’s on it, but the front man’s grin could light up a toothpaste commercial. As could his Hawaiian shirt.
It’s infectious, and Flower’s charisma quickly lifts the night. The show has plenty of the traditional elements standard at stadium rock shows, and can be predictable, but it’s all delivered with an intoxicating panache. There are snippet intros of ‘Human’ and ‘Spaceman’, and latest Battle Born features in modest swathes, but its clear that even now the Killers identity is dominated by breakthrough smash Hot Fuss. ‘Somebody Told Me’ launches things with a heady, thumping chord sequence, while ‘Smile Like You Mean It’, ‘Mr. Brightside’ and later hits ‘For Reasons Unknown’ and ‘Human’ are seemingly designed to punctuate the show with recognisable highs.
If you’re a fan of the Killers, you’ll certainly acknowledge the strength of their singles, and the spread of those high points makes perfect sense live, topped off with a massive peak come closing time with a hit parade of ‘Mr Brightside’, ‘When You Were Young’, Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine’ and ‘ All These Things That I’ve Done’. Again, standard stadium-show fare, accompanied by fireworks and lasers but things aren’t all straight down the line.
One slightly odd feature of tonight’s set up is the abundance of covers: U2’s ‘Pride (In the Name of Love)’ is a tired cliche of a cover to pull out in Dublin (and not particularly well done at that) and Tiffany’s ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ is just curiously cheesy and out of place even in its slightly rocked up form. Only Joy Division’s emotive ‘Shadowplay’ really sits naturally into the setlist.
The overall flow, though, is impressive. Contrary to popular belief, there’s little about the live set up that suggests The Killers have dropped off in quality or style since that debut, despite still building the sound around it, and if the whole set were to be muted, Flowers in particular would be considered a blinding performer. His somewhat laid-back guitar section, on the other hand, would certainly come off as slightly underwhelming. At times things are wonderfully upliftingly strong in there simplicity, but ultimately the success of the gig comes down to the obvious: a like or dislike of well-performed but fairly MOR rock.
For us, they’re simply a strong stadium band. Without being stunningly original or all that consistent, the Killers have mastered the art of filling a stage, making a bounce-along noise and looking quite incredibly happy doing so. It’s not one the best shows we’ve ever seen, but tonight is lively, memorable and stacked full of sparkling moments. There are enough highs for the weaker tracks to slide by without detracting much, and a renewed energy and positivity that Flowers appearance in the Academy as a solo act back in 2010 so emphatically lacked. In short, it does what it says on the tin, and it does it well. And those early singles? Well, they’re still worth bursting a lung for.