It is rare that I am ever in a camp of “bigger is better” when it comes to concerts, but sometimes, I really am. And sometimes, everything really is bigger and better in Las Vegas. That’s especially true when you see The Killers in their hometown. Here are my favorite concerts if the year, starting right at the top. (Hoe often is that the case? I’m not going to make you wait for the big payoff).
1. The Killers at MGM Grand Arena – Feb. 3.
Considering Albert Hammond Jr. of The Strokes opened the show, I had high expectations for the headliners. I got everything I wanted in spades from this band’s return home.
Lead singer Brandon Flowers started asking whether fans were having a good evening. Then he raised his voice and answered himself: “Fuck that. This is our town. We’re going to show you a good Saturday night.”
As Flowers began “The Man” off the band’s new album, Wonderful, Wonderful, pink confetti launched and soon covered the arena. A trio of female backing singers added to the disco-like chorus. Flowers worked the stage, undulating, hip-thrusting and feeding the crowd’s energy. Without missing a beat, the band went directly into “Somebody Told Me.”
The Killers created a giant spectacle. The sets featured everything from slot machines to lighted neon arrows. Screens behind and to the sides of the stage gave the show an immersive feel. Desert scenes, Mike Tyson and the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign were all included, along with a dazzling light show.
Flowers didn’t miss a chance to break out the white glittery suit for the excellent cover of Elvis‘ “Viva Las Vegas.” Glitz and glitter abounded in this two-hour discography-spanning set. The encore did not disappoint either, as The Killers performed “Sam’s Town,” a single they hadn’t played in two years. “When You Were Young” and “Mr. Brightside” combined for a perfect finale. People were still singing those anthems as they walked back onto the Las Vegas Strip.
2: David Byrne at City National Civic in San Jose – Aug. 18
Always one to push the creative envelope, David Byrne did not disappoint. Byrne took the stage donning a gray suit reminiscent of the one he wore during the “Stop Making Sense” tour. The backing band members entered one at a time, like a marching band, playing their instruments.
As Byrne performed “Here,” off his new album, American Utopia, he sang to a brain, in a silver-sequined stage. “Lazy,” lead by the band’s handclaps, showcased the barefoot troupe’s capacity for percussion ensembles and big guitars riffs. “Everybody’s Coming to My House” kept up the contagiously fun atmosphere with its singalong vibe.
From the opening chords of “This Must Be the Place” and “Burning Down the House,” the classic Talking Heads energy took full effect.
While Byrne has remained very vocal about his political leanings, it was never more evident than during the encore as the artists and opener, Ibeyi, came out to perform Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout,” a protest and tribute to all the lives lost at the hands of police brutality. The performers read several names, following them up with “Say His Name!” Byrne has been updating it for every show, so sadly there were some Bay Area references. The night’s excitement coincided with somber commentary, and no one strikes this balance better than David Byrne.
3. LCD Soundsystem at The Greek, Berkeley – April 28
LCD Soundsystem had a lot to live up to when the band returned from retirement. James Murphy and co. reclaimed their unique presence by opening with “You Wanted A Hit.” For those who have followed and loved them for a longer time, it was great to hear a song from 2010’s This Is Happening.
Murphy’s vocals soared into the night and Nancy Whang mixed it up with a very excited crowd that wanted to dance. The band went into “Tribulations,” an older track. Gavin Russom’s synth blended perfectly with the pulsating drumming of Pat Mahoney. The band’s dance-punk sound was alive and better than ever.
Only a couple songs from the band’s latest album, American Dream, but that’s OK because the band didn’t skip “Daft Punk is Playing at My House.” The song triggered a dance pit with its infectious sound as the disco ball spun around and covered fans in light. The encore included fan favorite “Dance Yrself Clean.” As the vocals joined with the keyboard and cowbells in perfect harmony, it felt like home.
4. Khruangbin at The Catalyst, Santa Cruz – Nov. 13
“Instrumental, bottom-heavy, psychedelic and sultry” might seem like an unlikely combination for a funk trio. But it works for Houston’s Khruangbin.
Guitarist Mark Speer got lost in the music, recalling Jimi Hendrix through his slick licks and smooth groove. Bassist Laura Lee hypnotized with simple but tasteful bass lines. Drummer Donald Johnson was a rhythmic powerhouse to complement the band’s danceable arrangements.
With the opening of “Bin Bin,” off The Universe Smiles Upon You, the band started with a punch. Speer’s unmistakable rhythmic guitar melted into evolving progressions. The band then played the surf-rock slow-burner “Infamous Bill,” and “Dern Kala,” a smooth jazz treat.
While most songs had no vocals, the seductive singing on “Evan Finds The Third Room” contrasted with a sample of a telephone ringing to make a catchy song that begged for undulations on the dance floor. The band really killed it on the hip-hop funk medley containing everything from Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” to Lauryn Hill, Sade and “The Next Episode Intro” by Dr. Dre.
5. Interpol & The Kills at The Greek, Berkeley – Oct. 6
Interpol’s show was like coming home to an old friend. After missing the band’s 15-year anniversary Turn On the Bright Lights tour last year, seeing this concert was a treat. The band began with “Pioneer to the Falls,” featuring the beautiful guitar playing of Daniel Kessler and frontman Paul Banks. Banks’ haunting vocals soared over the gloomy post-punk rhythm.
Interpol had a varied setlist and thankfully played plenty of songs off of its first two albums in addition to some off 2018’s Marauder. The band’s older songs, like “Roland,” got it back to its roots of angsty songwriting. Shrouded in blackness, Banks began “All The Rage Back Home” before the band came together and upped the intensity. “Not Even Jail” was delivered with pulsating intensity, pushing until it exploded with guitars and Sam Fogarino’s drumming. Crowd favorite “Slow Hands” brought the unforgettable bass line and impactful lyrics home.
The Kills showed that they are just as worthy of headlining the Greek. Every aspiring band leader can learn a thing or two from Alison Mosshart. On stage, Mosshart was in total attack mode, sweating raw emotion and sex appeal. The band opened with “Heart of A Dog” with exploding guitars. The Kills showed off more intensity with “Doing It To Death,” a bluesy track with breathy vocals and harmonies.
When Mosshart and Jamie Hince came togetheron “U.R.A Fever,” their vocals blended together as she stretched over amps, leaning into the crowd. “Kissy Kissy” was garage rock at its finest.
6. Fischerspooner at Regency Ballroom – March 14, 2018
Almost 10 years ago, I first saw Fischerspooner (electroc-clash and dance musicians Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner) at a club in New York and wasn’t sure what exactly I had witnessed. The band did not disappoint this year, either. Clothing—or lack thereof—is still an important part of the show.
Singer Spooner came out in a sparkly black coat and production whiz Fischer stayed in the background. “Oh Rio” set up the night with Spooner’s seductive vocals: “Every dream has a dark side, no matter how hard you try.” Models strutted the stage in next to nothing and undulated against Spooner. Beautiful dancers switched between pop-and-lock and exquisite ballet moves. Spooner’s coat wouldn’t last long. His next outfit revealed impossibly tight jeans that left little to the imagination. As the show went on, he took off more to reveal some bondage fetish wear and boots.
He was in quite the mood. Breaking off from a performance of “Emerge,” said he “didn’t feel like playing old songs.” Thankfully, he later came back to the song, along with “Never Win.”
Fischerspooner’s latest album stands out for its themes of homosexuality. The stage show reflected that with images of men together in various situations. It was only fitting that the band ended with “I Need Love” and the entire troupe came out carrying signs reading: “Mike Pence Queer Basher,” “Thank God for Abortion,” “Net Neutrality is an LGBTQ Issue,” “Gun Control is an LGBTQ Issue” and “Women’s Rights is an LGBTQ Issue.” As the show came to an end, Spooner reminded everyone to “rise and resist.”
7. Animal Collective performing Sung Tongs at the Fox Theater – July 30
Animal Collective members Panda Bear and Avey Tare brought Sung Tongs to life. Their mostly acoustic set was an experimental masterpiece of chanting voices, plucked guitars and harmonies that—quite frankly—would fit well in David Byrne’s band. Some fans were down on their knees and others just let the music wash over them. There was interpretive dancing and typical pogoing.
Between the animal sounds over psychedelic music, it felt as though the concert transcended the physical space. “Winters Love” was a frenzied genius and had the crowd bouncing along, while “We Tigers” was an outer space experience.
8. Bat Fangs at Great American Music Hall – Feb. 25
Singer-guitarist Betsy Wright and drummer Laura King were a force to be reckoned with. The band took the room by the jugular and its performance was a train going full-speed. Wright sneered, shredded and lunged across the stage. King looked like she could be going out for a jog in track pants and a tank top. But don’t mistake the look for her ability to pummel the drums.
“Wolf Bite” paired fuzzed-out garage riffs with Wright’s sultry vocals. She sounded like Debbie Harry and Pat Benatar rolled into one. Bat Fangs’ songs were dirty, gritty and sexy—and made me want more. The band’s fast-paced sound was even more interesting, with jarring pauses in the middle of songs. Bat Fangs closed this Noise Pop show with a cover of Poison’s “Talk Dirty To Me.”
9. Tie! Hangtown (Oct. 29 at El Rio), Dinnerwiththekids (Oct. 9 at Bottom of the Hill) and Thunderegg (April 14 at The Crepe Place in Santa Cruz).
These three bands do share one commonality—Reese Douglas on guitars and bass—but could not be more distinct from each other.
Hangtown can best be described as apocalyptic spaghetti Western surf-rock—basically, a Quentin Tarantino film. The playing of guitarists Robb Grimes and Nick Poulos, and Douglas on bass, were incredibly tight. “Walk Along the Edge” was beautifully gritty when Poulos added backing vocals, giving the song a nice fullness.
Dinnerwiththekids reunited for just one night in October, with member Michelle Louise flying in from Arizona for the occasion. Louise’s vocals had a sweet growl to them and mixed with the gritty, husky vocals of Nick Poulos. The band performs with a variety of members to create its alt-country, bluegrass and Americana sound. Besides Douglas, Hangtown’s Robb Grimes is also in the band on banjo.
Thunderegg had a whirlwind of a tour last April. The band, often compared to Guided by Voices, The Mountain Goats and Dean Wareham’s Luna, played a spacey indie rock show in Santa Cruz (and again at Winter’s Tavern in Pacifica Frontman Will Georgantas’ lyrics were infectious. Bassist Alex Jimenez and Douglas (on guitar) filled out the fuzzy sound. It was too loud for some at this small club but it could have been louder with even more reverb for the full effect. Andre Custodio’s drumming almost disappeared into the wall of joyful noise.