“Who can top that shit?”
Black Thought, M.C. for The Roots, shouts that as his bandmates wrap up their last song. Looming over the rest of the band on a riser, Questlove attacks his drums with a whirling dexterity that seems impossible to pull off with only two arms. I half-expected him to step away from his kit and reveal a second pair of arms, like he was a Hindu god or Goro from Mortal Kombat.
The Roots played a killer set, topping off a stellar Saturday for the inaugural Lost Lake Festival. There were already quite a few highlights: Early sets by Carla Morrison and Kongos won crowds over with strong performance chops. Enthusiastic audiences were a constant throughout the day. Huey Lewis killed.
This has been a year chock-full of horrors, wonders, and sheer strangeness. But few sights have hit that trifecta of horror/wonder/strange harder than millennials twerking themselves into a frenzy over “The Power Of Love.”
Even with all the fun shows I had seen earlier in the day, I couldn't begrudge Black Thought for his cockiness. Honestly, who could top that shit?
The Killers, that's who.
Underestimate the live power of The Killers at your own peril. They're a formidable group. Taking the stage as lasers criss-crossed the sky, the band opened the show with an explosion of pink confetti raining down on the crowd.
Wearing a pink jacket that matched the color of the confetti, Brandon Flowers sang “The Man” as the rest of the Killers, dressed in black, rocked out behind him. As a recorded song, “The Man” does nothing for me. Live, though, it crushes. It's the kind of rock 'n' roll self-mythologizing that most modern bands wouldn't be caught dead trying to pull off.
That's the beauty of The Killers; they're try-hard geeks in the best possible sense.
It's strange to think that, of all the bands that emerged in the new millennium during the ”rock is back!” revival, that The Killers dwarfed the rest. The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Interpol were critical darlings, but none of them have penetrated pop culture to the degree The Killers have. Turn On The Bright Lights is a monster of a record. Your 40-something uncle probably doesn't know the words to “New York City Cops,” but he could probably sing along to “Somebody Told Me" after a couple beers.
A big part of The Killers' appeal is their earnestness. After all, you can't write a song like “When You Were Young” with an ounce of irony in your body. The band's songs are full of Americana cliches (your Daddy's car, getting out of two-star towns, the open road) that resonate because there's something in them we can all relate to. Give the dapper devils their due: They figured out you could take John Cougar Mellencamp, give him a Duran Duran paint job, and that combo would give you a license to print money.
The other aspect that draws people to the band's music? The weird-ass, baffling lyrics. Is there another rock singer working today who can get away with bizarre lines like “Are we human / Or are we dancer?” or “I've got soul / But I'm not a soldier” as well as Flowers can? A good portion of Killers lyrics read like mistranslated fortune cookies. It's the kind of stuff that shouldn't inspire people to sing along and yet somehow it does.
The crowd's rapturous response floored me. People sang along to almost every single song — “Spaceman,” “Human,” “Smile Like You Mean It." It was one crowd-pleaser after another. The band showed a talent for the artful tease. “When You Were Young” surfaced early on in the set as a slow, stripped-down version before seguing into a different song entirely.
Newer material played well live, too. Even though Flowers waaay oversold “Run For Cover” by asking the crowd, “Are you ready to hear your new favorite song? Because we have it right here.”
The Killers closed their set with another burst of confetti (white this time) and “All These Things That I've Done.” They came back to finish off the evening with a three-song encore: “This Is Your Life,” “When You Were Young,” and “Mr. Brightside.”
Of course it would end with that song. It's the one that everybody was waiting to hear. The song that elevated The Killers into the upper echelon of pop. It's our generation's “Bohemian Rhapsody,” our “Stairway to Heaven,” our “I Want To Hold Your Hand” — play it at any party, karaoke night, or road trip and somebody will lose their mind over it. An entire field of people at Steele Indian School Park opened up their eager eyes and shouted that they were Mr. Brightside.
That's how you top that shit.
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Last Night: The Killers' headlining set at the 2017 Lost Lake Festival
The Crowd: A vast herd of ecstatic Killers fans, packed shoulder-to-shoulder. Lots of flower crowns, unicorn suits, and dudes wearing sunglasses after dark. There was also a gentleman wearing a tie-dye shirt that said “Magical Motherfucker” on it. I didn't have the presence of mind to ask him to cast a spell for me. Maybe a floating enchantment so I could've hovered over these teeming throngs.
Overheard: “SIDE! SIDE! BRRRRRSIDE!” One incredibly hammered woman spent the entirety of this set shouting for “Mr. Brightside." But she was so bombed out of her gourd that she couldn't actually articulate the song title properly. It just came out as blurts of “SIDES!”
Random Notebook Dump: Black Thought should have pointed out that The Roots have The Killers beat in the tuba department. Do The Killers have a goddamn tuba? No, they certainly do not. Advantage: The Roots.