Thursday, August 19, 2010

Brandon Flowers Live at The Troubadour

When I didn’t get a ticket to the Brandon Flowers show at the Troubadour in Los Angeles during the regular sale, I had come to terms with the fact that I would not be attending one of the five intimate shows he was playing in the U.S. to kick off his new solo album. The regular ticket sale sold out in minutes, and strict box office regulations enforcing that the purchaser of tickets must be present for entry, put a heavy damper on resale purchase options. So, when 5 hours prior to show time, a generous offer came my way – someone I’d never met had an extra ticket and was offering it to me at face value – I jumped at the chance to take it. Even though it meant I would drive two hours to Los Angeles with hopes that the too-good-to-be-true stranger was not flaky, creepy, crazy, or dangerous.

As I stood in line at the venue, with a surprising number of people in the same boat (waiting to see if tickets promised by strangers would actually come through), I realized that my practical, sensible self was at complete odds with the personality traits needed to make this experience enjoyable. All around me, bidding wars were happening . . . a ticket sold for $160, offers for $250, online price of $400, then came word that someone was asking $600 for one ticket on Craigslist. THIS WAS CRAZY!!! Was a total stranger really going to sell me my ticket at face value when the person in line right next to me was offering hundreds of dollars? The answer is YES, he did!!! Although he had been offered ten times the amount of face value, he showed up and honored our original agreement. I only detail my experience of getting inside the venue because, while some people thrive on this kind of hassle and anxiety about whether they will get into a show, I genuinely hate it. Had it not been a Killers/Flowers gig, I would not have been motivated to go under the circumstances.

Once inside the venue, I wondered why we had all gone to the trouble of waiting in line for doors to open. There was not a bad view in the house. While a painful, but mercifully short, opening comedy act was on stage the crowd was distracted by the knowledge that Flowers and his band were hanging out in the windowed room above us. He approached the window briefly and stepped away, causing the crowd to anxiously look up for him to appear again throughout the rest of the opening act. It was only a matter of minutes after the comedy act finished that Flowers, four musicians, and two back-up vocalists hit the small stage. They launched into a 10-song set that featured eight new songs, one Killers song, and a cover of “Bette Davis Eyes.”

Many of you reading this are Brandon Flowers fans, have been following coverage of his first shows, and probably seen videos. I can’t put into words anything that you have not seen for yourself on You Tube. You know that Flowers makes nervous and jittery comments between songs, and that he often clutches his heart and closes his eyes as if pleading that you believe every word he sings. You know that, as a slow burning song reaches a climactic end, he rocks aggressively forward and back on his feet. All of the quirks and characteristics of his performing style were magnified in a venue where furthest view was no more than 50 feet away. Perhaps because of that intimacy, the show had a mellower feel than a typical Killers show. Also, the new collection of songs are introspective and contemplative in theme, and that they were unfamiliar to the audience probably also contributed to a more reserved reception.

Flowers told Spin magazine this week that embarking on this solo effort has renewed his admiration for his band mates in the Killers. While watching the show (prior to the Spin article), I actually wondered if that was the case. A longtime Killers fan will not hear live versions of these songs without questioning how much stronger they would be with the full force of the Killers rhythm section behind them. After only two shows on the road, I realize that it is unfair to compare Flowers’ touring musicians to the eight years of experience the Killers have playing with each other. During the band hiatus, Flowers wanted to keep making music, and so he is starting from scratch after having years of phenomenal chemistry and live energy with the Killers. It can’t be easy for a self-proclaimed perfectionist.

One thing I have come to look forward to in a album release involving Brandon Flowers is the “what the F*CK?” reaction that I inevitably have toward one of the new songs, when I think “this song is either very good or very bad, and I can’t tell which it is.” I never discount any of his songs outright because 9 out of 10 times, a song I disliked at first listen becomes likable, or even a favorite. This was the case for me with “Bones,” “Tidal Wave,” “Joyride,” and several other songs that I now adore. Flowers is a songwriter that experiments with the styles of his predecessors. Doing such does not always seem natural or fitting, but he nonetheless challenges fans to expand their musical palate and to expand their notion of the type of songwriter he is. So far, a song called “Swallow It” is the frontrunner for the “what the F*CK?” award this time around, and not only because of the title. It’s a bizarre Lou Reed-style song with an unusual cadence to the vocal. Perhaps 6 months from now it will be my favorite? It’s happened before.

In the meantime, there are many other songs on the upcoming album that are becoming fast favorites. “Jilted Lovers and Broken Hearts” is a classic Killers-style dance rock song with a great, catchy hook, and “Magdalena” is an upbeat tune with a hopeful and inspiring lyrical theme. “Hard Enough,” the beautiful, real-life love song, speaks to the challenges of keeping a long-term (and maybe long-distance) relationship in balance. It had stunning background vocals during the live show, and I am looking forward to the studio version of the song featuring Jenny Lewis on vocals. From Flamingo, I think we can expect a balance of both familiar and experimental styles.

Flowers remains one of my favorite live performers because he is earnest, heartfelt, and palpably vulnerable on stage. I am very grateful that I got to see him up close at the Troubadour, and want to again thank the good guy (@Jerko) who offered me his ticket. Here is video (not taken by me) of Flowers performing “Losing Touch.” It’s not one of his new songs but it is some of the best video of the night, not only because of the quality, but because Flowers is infinitely more relaxed and happy for this song in the knowledge that the crowd knows it and it is enthusiastically received.