The Killers’ Brandon Flowers was the real Mr. Brightside all along

Brandon Flowers has very white teeth, and he seems very nice, but in a nervous way. He is prone to corny jokes and very earnest stories. He is the closest thing America has to a combination youth pastor/rock star.

(Eric Webb/American-Statesman)
(Eric Webb/American-Statesman)

The Killers’ frontman brought pop-rock grandiosity to Austin City Limits Music Festival’s Honda stage on Friday with a solo set in support of his latest album, “The Desired Effect.” But because only people who regularly listened to “Hot Fuss” and maybe Las Vegans know Brandon Flowers’ name, he opened with a Killers song. In this case, it was “Human,” which would be an odd choice if it weren’t such a dang good tone-setter for the rest of the set.

It turned out that was not a portent for the rest of the setlist, but rather half of a pair of bookends. After appeasing the masses, Flowers proved that he is the rock star that Nate Ruess is trying to be on the sweeping glam monster that is “Can’t Deny My Love,” from his latest LP, followed by “Crossfire,” his first solo single effort and when this reviewer first noticed that Flowers’ face turns beet red when he plays to the metaphorical rafters.

Flowers hit a lowlight and highlight within short distance of each other. “Magdalena,” from 2010’s “Flamingo,” played like an awkwardly anachronistic country song with a smidgen too much righteousness. Soon after, though, this year’s “Lonely Town” cruised along with winsome heart. Even Flowers’ banter about that tune — “This song has no business being played in daylight. … It sounds like midnight” — betrayed his earnestness. Dark and dangerous, that song ain’t.

Affability and showmanship were the themes of this set. A performance of “Still Want You” melded the song’s Paul Simon-esque sensibilities with the average wedding’s “Shout” choreography. But if you wanted affability and showmanship? Well, ACL Fest, Mr. Brandon Flowers had a showstopping “Mr. Brightside” in the hopper all along.

It was a victory lap that snuck up with a subtle synth intro and that decompressed the hit’s familiar structure for maximum savoring. Flowers let the crowd — members of which flung themselves up and down and rode each others’ shoulders — sing an entire verse all by themselves. Audience members looked into the eyes of their friends and loved ones next to them. The “Hot Fuss” track itself is a taught rock rollercoaster. But as the sun started to creep under the horizon Friday, Flowers unspooled a coil of collective cultural connection until everyone within earshot got a strand to call their own.

That Flowers. What a mensch.

Author: Eric Webb

Eric Webb is a web producer for the Austin American-Statesman and Austin360. He blogs about Austin culture, pop culture and anything that lives on the Internet.

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