Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Killers--Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, Maryland

(Everyone hates Ticketmaster and I am usually no exception. But I am going to give credit where credit is due. I had ordered two tickets to see the Killers earlier this week at Merriweather Post Pavilion, which is located about 25 miles north of my apartment in Columbia, Maryland. Come three days before the show, I still did not have any tickets even though they had been ordered way far in advanced. I did not have the tickets because they were lost in the mail, along with a few other semi-important things that I needed. Upon calling the number that was attached to my confirmation email, I was immediately connected (without having to listen to even a single recording) to an overtly friendly and helpful woman who, in less than five minutes, saved the day with little questions asked and issued me two new tickets. All I had to do was show up at the will call window with photo identification and the credit card that I used to purchase the tickets. It was almost too easy. One might even call it an exercise in "convenience." And a lesser company would probably charge for such a...oh, shit...nevermind.)

Anyway, I have been to plenty of outdoor music festivals in recent years, but had not been to one of these "cookie-cutter" outdoor amphitheaters like Merriweather Post Pavilion in probably ten years. But only the parking and seating situation at Merriweather is generic. The rest of it feels like a zoo. Literally. Yes, there are a lot of people, but there are even more trees that turn the surrounding area into a forest that is disturbed only by a nice stream of water, and a trail that leads to the venue. There are wooden signs nailed all along the campus trail that contain useful information for a Merriweather novice like myself. For instance, I learned in 1971 a "little known" Led Zeppelin opened for the Who at this very venue. That's a fun fact, but I had a feeling they were using the words "little known" a bit liberally. I was right. When I got home I checked Zeppelin's discography and learned that 1971 was the year they released their commercially celebrated untitled fourth album. This means they already had their self-titled debut, II, and III under their belt. Surely they were pretty well-known by this point, right? Or who knows, maybe most people left that show thinking, "Wow, the Who were great, but what was the name of that loud opening band again? And was that Janis Joplin singing? I thought she was dead!"

We had lawn seats, and found a decent spot in shallow right-center field while opening act Wolfmother played. If you're unfamiliar with Wolfmother, just think Dragonforce meets the fictional band Stillwater from Almost Famous. Confused? Hey, me too. But nevermind that, one great thing about Merriweather are the large screens affixed around the venue for the viewing pleasure of those in the lawn. They are almost so crisp and clear that you feel guilty if you catch yourself gazing at them instead of the stage, and you wonder if paying decent money just to see something that you could have watched at home on television was a stupid choice, but then you realize such an event isn't televised in the first place anyway, and it dawns on you that the last five minutes spent wondering whether staring at the screens cheapened the experience was a complete waste. (This thought sequence really did play out in my mind. I suck.)

Another great thing about the video screens was between bands they displayed a reel of different texts that audience members were sending to a number finely displayed on the screen. Most were about the Killers (ex: "r we human?"), although one was a proposal (ex: "jen will u marry me? i luv u. chris") which seemed to lead to a series of mock proposals. I decided to get in on the action. I won't repeat what I sent but let's just say it was not posted. Even worse, I quickly got a text back that stated I had somehow agreed to be notified of all Merriweather events. Just what I needed. This better not be like the time last summer when I signed up to be notified via text of Barack Obama's running mate, only to be inundated for the next three months at all hours of the day with mindless text "alerts" and borderline spam.

By the time the Killers took the stage it was dark, and we were sitting motionless on a blanket not buying beer. (Beer was in the range of $8 which explains why everyone was tailgating in the parking lot before the show.) The reaction to everyone in my vicinity when the band did finally emerge was almost astonishing. I saw friends hugging, girls immediately dancing. People just love this band. And the Killers crowd is much different than what I'm used to. I saw twelve-year-olds with their parents (probably why they wouldn't show my text), couples in their late 40s, pretty much all walks of life. I could have been at a baseball game and I would not have been able to tell the difference. Remember with the release of Sam's Town when it seemed the Killers had set out to become the biggest band in America? Well, I think they did it.

Also, I really like this band. A small fraction of their appeal is the contrarian nature of their bravado when compared to most bands I listen to. In the Lollapalooza post I wrote that I began to like the Killers as soon as everyone else decided they were no longer cool. This might not be entirely accurate. For starters, I am not sure those that dislike the Killers ever thought they were cool. They were always a part of the mainstream, even before Hot Fuss blew up. In my world, they first took the form of a guilty pleasure. But after hearing "Read My Mind" from Sam's Town and being unable to remove it from my head, I finally pushed all of my chips to the center of the table and decided I was all in. And I do respect the fact that the Killers welcome the idea of mass appeal at the possible expense of street-cred. But as stated, mostly I like their songs. There just aren't many bands with the lifespan of only three albums with this many hits.

Even their songs that I wouldn't consider "hits" sound like hits in concert. For example, they opened with "Joy Ride" from their latest Day & Age, which is a song I have never cared for, but I was completely sold with the disco-esque bassline and lead singer Brandon Flowers hitting every note with vocal chords that I wasn't even aware he had. And he's a great frontman, almost like a modern day Mick Jagger the way he struts around stage and owns the crowd. He's very pleased with himself and is certainly cocky, but there is a tongue-in-cheek element involved that makes it work.

As for the rest of the set, if there is a Killers song that you like, they probably played it. A few that left an impression were "Somebody Told Me," and their latest hit "Human," which contains the unanswerable question "Are we human/or are we dancer?" Umm, yes? You know, no one really has any clue what that lyric means, but if you listen to the song more than three times there is no reason to care because you will realize that the song is awesome. (And the fact that so many people still talk about that lyric makes it brilliant in my book.)

Before the encore, they dusted off staples "Mr. Brightside" and "All These Things That I've Done," the latter of which included the appropriate "I got soul/but I'm not a soldier" sing-along from the entire crowd before the band sauntered off stage. They returned and played "Believe Me Natalie" which, if I recall, included pyrotechnics that from my vantage point seemed to be raining down on top of drummer Ronnie Vannucci. Subtle, the Killers are not, and probably never will be. Flowers then informed the crowd that they were going to play their final song as hard as they possibly could, and launched into "When You Were Young." This was my first time seeing the Killers so I was forced to take Flowers's word for it, but I would be shocked if what he said was disingenuous. That song is nearly a victim of its own grandiosity-it will never be able to be anything other than a closer.

Like any good outdoor amphitheater, leaving Merriweather was complete hell as cars were stuck at a stand-still in the parking lot for a good hour. At one point I asked one of the girls I was with, "Can you tell if any cars are moving, or are we dancer?" (I was the only one that thought this was hilarious.) The cars were not even thinking of moving, so we were most certainly dancer. But had it not been for the accommodating people at Ticketmaster, we would have been nothing at all.


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