A select few acts have gained the level of universal popularity and fame required to headline at a venue as immense and impersonal as Wembley Stadium. It is a venue that has played host to many icons of rock, including Queen, Metallica, Bruce Springsteen and Muse, and success here requires one of two things: either a set of flawless anthems tailor-made for sing-alongs, or a level of theatricality not normally seen outside the West End. Wembley is certainly a bold choice for The Killers and marks their largest ever headline show, but can they pull off the transition from playing arenas to being a fully-fledged stadium rock act?
First on tonight’s bill is James, a band who most of the audience know as the nineties one-hit wonders responsible for the infernally catchy number ‘Sit Down’. This perception is rather unfair on a band who’ve been performing for over 30 years and have sold around 25 million albums. Still, they battle against crowd apathy to deliver a set of 7 enjoyable and well performed songs, including the aforementioned hit. Ultimately, they manage to fill cavernous Wembley with sound and joy for the short time they perform, in spite of the fact that the stadium is barely half full, a fact that affable lead singer Tim Booth cheerfully acknowledges.
Next up to try their luck on Wembley’s hallowed stage are hotly tipped New Jersey rockers The Gaslight Anthem. They provide a contrast to James’s breezy brit-pop with their traditional American blue collar rock. They are clearly influenced by fellow Wembley alumni Bruce Springsteen and seem at home on the big stage, despite some sound system problems. They perform a set of true rock anthems, and are a joy to watch, with set highlights including the brilliant ‘59 Sound’ and the beautiful, atmospheric ‘The Backseat’, with lyrics that are perfectly evocative of summer road trips along endless, dusty American highways.
Finally, it is time for the Killers to take to the stage, and the packed stadium is at fever pitch. As they immediately open with the rock bombast of ‘When We Were Young’, it soon becomes clear which route to stadium success The Killers have chosen for their first stadium show. There is no theatrical prop spectacular here, only great rock songs the entire 90,000 strong crowd seem to know the words too. Charismatic and dynamic frontman Brandon Flowers has complete command of the crowd from the first notes he sings and bounds about the stage, obviously overjoyed to be there. So overjoyed, in fact, he’s even written a little song for Wembley, name checking the other acts that have played there. It’s a lovely moment, and Brandon’s happiness is infectious. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of guitarist Dave Keuning, who seems like he can hardly keep awake while onstage. However, this is a minor quibble when he plays so well, and the driving sound of his guitar transforms already anthemic hits such as ‘Human’, ‘Spaceman’ and ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ into stadium filling perfection.
The whole band performs flawlessly and there isn’t a single boring moment. The band even break out a cover of the wonderfully cheesy ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’, and manage to make it sound soaring and exciting, a feat a lesser band wouldn’t be able to even attempt. Newer material such as ‘Runaways’ and ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’ is met with the same level of joy from the frenzied crowd as old fan favourites, a rarity for a show of this size. As the encore draws to a close, with final song, ‘Mr Brightside’ and a burst of fireworks soaring high over Wembley, it is clear that The Killers have most definitely conquered stadium playing. Wembley may be their first stadium gig, but, on this performance, it certainly won’t be their last.