Live review: Brandon Flowers at the Troubadour
On its face, that’s a silly question — as long as there are disaffected teenagers and cheap guitars, at least a few of them will become stars. But the list of mainstream rock bands that emerged in the 2000s and can fill arenas is witheringly small, and Muse and Kings of Leon seem more interested in prog wonkery or over-earnest sex jams than the kind of witty, hook-nimble arena pop that Flowers and his colleagues in the Killers have honed since 2004’s “Hot Fuss” and took to Coachella’s headlining slot in 2009.
Flowers is kind of an Omega Man for the idea that guys in bands can still get pop radio play. By and large they can’t anymore, and the kind of songwriting mind that tosses off perfect, playful choruses now takes to Dr. Luke’s gum-snapping technopop instead.
So it’s all the more interesting that the Roxy Music pomp and skewed Bowie balladry of his debut solo album “Flamingo” feels both lost to its time and decadently stuffed with potential hits. At a small warm-up show at the Troubadour on Tuesday, Flowers made the case for that very old kind of rock star’s place in today’s addled pop firmament.
Though he’s dabbled in guyliner and the winking gilt splendor of his Las Vegas hometown, Flowers by and large played it straight and droll in his first L.A. solo outing. Dressed in a shimmery red shirt and black vest, Flowers had an appealing kind of alpha-male-wedding-DJ charisma. He introduced songs from “Flamingo” with a wry self-awareness of the solo-turn exercise — “I’ve been told this is one of the standout singles,” he said, introducing the post-punk stomper “Jilted Lovers & Broken Hearts,” whose quality he had accurately assessed.
A small backing band and two harmony singers gave him room to command the tunes, and though his voice doesn’t have the widest range or most lacerating expressiveness, it’s the perfect vehicle for his kind of songwriting. He savors the bleak yet sympathetic humor in a line like “I got a job at the Nugget, and saved a grand for a brand new start,” but his tenor can easily command a wide-lens, Springsteen-angst tune like “Magdalena.”
Flowers has suggested that many of these songs were intended for a future Killers album (the band is on hiatus for a year), and it’s easy to imagine the airy, Genesis-worthy synths of “Only The Young” and the doomed gospel of “Playing With Fire” finding room in that catalog. The set was purposefully light on actual Killers songs, with a faithful take on “Losing Touch” being the rare nod to his day job. “Flamingo” feels like a songwriter’s record, not a band’s. The Killers would make room for a snazzy guitar lick or acrobatic bass run up front, but his solo turn is almost technocratically designed to make Flowers’ melodies the main attraction.
A song like the synthetically plucky “Was It Something I Said” doesn’t have the arrangement meat of the similarly inclined Killers hit “Spaceman,” but Flowers deploys such weapons-grade catchiness at every turn so that the song stands on its own. And he knows it too: Introducing that one, he told a story of how the band made him rearrange it to be more upbeat, and now “this is the fun one, I guess.”
That’s something only a guile-dripping pop mercenary would admit to. So maybe Flowers isn’t so much the last surviving rocker on the Top 40 charts, as he is an even rarer kind of writer. To paraphrase maybe his best song, “Somebody Told Me”: Somebody told him he was a pop guy who looks like a rock guy.
-- August Brown
Top photo: Brandon Flowers performs at the Troubadour. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.
Bottom photo: Flowers and band. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.
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