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Making a killing 

Las Vegas' Killers gamble with indie-rock formulas to succeed

Found lying motionless in his Las Vegas home, 75-year-old businessman Michael Valentine was pronounced dead from a lone gunshot to the head. Valentine was presumed to have taken his own life, but no weapon was discovered. To this day his death remains a mystery, although it was eventually ruled a suicide.

Brandon Flowers, frontman of Las Vegas-based buzz band the Killers, is surprised to learn about the late Valentine, even though an article detailing his bizarre, untimely demise comes up after a simple Internet search of "Michael Valentine and Las Vegas." "The Killers" is not meant as any ill-humored commentary on mind-blowing rock 'n' roll or some such. Flowers claims "The Ballad of Michael Valentine," the B-side to the Killers' recent U.K. single, was written solely about a member of Vegas band the Romance Fantasy, who apparently adopted the name after learning Michael Stipe used it when he checked into hotels.

Flowers' apparent ignorance regarding Valentine is just as well, as it would make his choice of band name tasteless rather than trendy. But all jokes aside, this odd coincidence and resulting state of confusion fits the Killers, a band in the throes of an identity crisis that could threaten its fledgling fan base.

On the one hand, the Killers are very much part of the new garage wave: a band lauded in Britain's hype-mongering gatekeeper New Music Express, and given the requisite "the ______ Strokes" modifier to describe the quartet's sound. The Killers' guitar-intensive assault and Flowers' melancholic delivery are certainly not inconsistent with garage as currently defined by the British music mag. But Flowers also isn't afraid to profess his love of "stadium songs" -- an admission tantamount to treason in garage circles.

Indeed, the Killers are an intriguing mess of contradictions. While clearly closer to the Strokes than, say, Creed, the Killers also penned a song titled "Indie Rock N' Roll," which none too subtly lampoons the stereotypical indie fan's lifestyle. (Sample lines: "Two of us flipping through a thrift store magazine/She plays the drums, I'm on tambourine/It's indie rock n' roll for me.")

"When we play that song over here, we get bottles thrown at us," says Flowers. Perhaps not surprisingly (and wisely), the U.K. favored track will not be featured on the U.S. version of the Killers' debut album, Hot Fuss, to be released this summer.

And while the Killers do share an ardent commitment to big guitars with garage contemporaries, the group is just as fascinated with the decidedly unfashionable: namely, bigger synths and heavy vocal effects. And not the cool monotone, calling-from-a-pay phone kind employed by the Strokes' Julian Casablancas; rather, the octave-changing ones usually reserved for electronic artists getting spins in South Beach night clubs.

It's a taste for the absurd and glam that most authenticity-craving garage groups avoid at all costs that further separates the Killers. This is a band that not only overtly referenced Duran Duran on its first EP, but had the audacity to make "Somebody told me you had a boyfriend who looked like a girlfriend that I had in February of last year" the chorus of its current U.K. single.

As befits a band impudently fond of stadium-sized sound and slick production, Hot Fuss, recorded late last year in three weeks, was mixed by Alan Moulder (My Bloody Valentine, Smashing Pumpkins). Leading up to the album, the Killers embark on the group's first U.S. tour, on which Flowers hopes to do his city prouder than hair metal has-beens Slaughter, the last Vegas band to enjoy the national spotlight.

"Most of the groups that have been on major labels over the past few years [from Vegas] have been dropped within a month," says Flowers. "We've talked with a lot of the younger bands since we signed and they're definitely encouraged. It's shown them that, you know, it can be done -- even out here in the dirt."

Of course, whether America will respond favorably to the Killers' anthemic, neon-lighted take on a notoriously self-important genre or continue to pelt them with beer bottles is yet to be determined. Indie rock 'n' roll, indeed.

music@creativeloafing.com

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