Brandon Flowers has dropped off my radar. Or maybe my radar has dropped off. It feels like a disservice to the man whose music soundtracked my adolescence. 'Mr Brightside' came out a couple of weeks before I stumbled nervously into secondary school in 2003. My friends and I would belt out ‘When You Were Young’ on walks into town to get lunch, and I crammed ecstatically against the barrier for The Killers’ headline slot at Leeds the summer I did my GCSEs. But it wasn't just about his band: I played Flowers’ solo debut Flamingo over and over (through a 99p aux-to-tape converter) in my battered Ford Fiesta, driving to and from various dodgy gap year jobs.
I moved to the big city for uni, determined to expand my horizons, and get stuck into what older, supposedly wiser friends told me was real indie rock and roll: something more authentic than the glamorous version Flowers and his bandmates had by then turned into a phenomenon. My pretensions have since faded, but so has the amount of time I devote to music, to the point where I didn’t notice Flowers was playing two consecutive headline shows at the Brixton Academy, 500 yards from my current flat, earlier this year. The tour, in support of his new album The Desired Effect, has been critically lauded and swung back through London for a second concluding visit this week, giving me the opportunity to renew my acquaintance.
What has he been doing in the meantime? What do you do when you've been the frontman of a band that soundtracked a generation's coming of age? He’s avoided the pitfalls of some of his predecessors and contemporaries; no flirtations with fascism (Morrissey) or opening a junk shop in Camden (Doherty), and released two critically and commercially successful albums: 2010’s Flamingo, a sort of audio portrait of Las Vegas, the city to which he attributes his continued stability - ‘without Vegas, I would be a wreck,’ he told the Telegraph a few years ago - and, earlier this year, The Desired Effect. If anything, the latter delves further back into his past: to small town America and the preoccupations of growing up. But, seeing him up on stage again, I think something bigger might have happened.
I think Brandon Flowers might have become the complete pop star.
What do pop stars do? They transcend their surroundings. They make you forget about everything else, just for the night. They bring people together, through their music, their message and their persona. They are the poets, preachers and politicians of the modern age, and Flowers ticks every box with aplomb.
This is a man who, by the mere act of walking on stage, makes middle aged west Londoners look and feel like teenagers, screaming and swooning and texting their mates to make them jealous. ‘Come Out Tonight’, his usual opener, is tuned to the occasion but crooned to perfection, and then he’s off into the bouncy, upbeat ‘Dreams Come True’ and then ‘Can’t Deny My Love’: leaping onto the speakers to gee up the crowd, alternating between mocking, questioning, ear-cupping ‘let me hear you’ and infectious grins.
In sparkly blazer with hair tied back he might look, as a friend texted on Saturday night having seen him on Strictly, 'like Harry Styles' dad', but you don't care, just like you don't care that Robbie Williams is the type of bloke who live tweets his kid's birth, or that Elton John's real name is Reg, or that Beyonce sues people for publishing unflattering photos. You don't care because you're loving it, because he's loving it; I've never, with the possible exception of Jarvis Cocker, seen an artist so unashamedly delighted to be where he is.
His vocals unquestionably contain something of the pulpit, unsurprising given that he's probably the world's most famous non-fiction Mormon, and his lyrics are littered with religious imagery - see 'Crossfire', which follows the two singles from the new album - and, in some cases, just flat out religious. He tells the story of the Mexican pilgrimage that inspired Magdalena, then in full pastor mode leads his flock in a rousing chorus, with the brass section of his backing band providing appropriately angelic heraldry.
It’s testament to his solo proficiency that you can sometimes forget Flowers is still the frontman of one of the world’s biggest bands, and it’s testament to his humility that he hardly mentions The Killers, but when he breaks into a version of 'Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine' that’s not so much stripped back as deconstructed, like a Heston Blumenthal pudding, the texting and Snapchatting intensifies. Maybe keen to get people’s attention back to the moment, he prods people into action; ‘you can dance if you want,’ he smirks, ‘I won’t tell anyone’, and then he’s off, leading us, whirling his hand above his head as 'Lonely Town' takes us through the pains of a small-town love affair.
He’s not averse to a bit of reflection either, introducing the next song with a tale of fairground games and films as metaphors. 'Writing songs can be a bit like throwing darts at a poster - you've got it in your hand and you know what you want to hit. With this song I was aiming at The Place Beyond The Pines, and I hit Raising Arizona...' It turns out to be 'Diggin’ Up The Heart', a Springsteen-esque story of robbery and redemption with the inevitable hit-the-road moment. We get pulled over just long enough for him to jokingly proffer a cover of 'Bootylicious' - I for one would have loved to see him try - but are soon blasting through the familiar territory of 'Read My Mind', wind in our hair as the sell-out crowd belts out every line.
Audience in the palm of his hand, it would be easy for him to reel off Killers hits, but as if to make the point that he's got more range than that he follows up with 'I Can Change', punchy and powerful, full of soaring synths and a pounding drumbeat, and then the sombre, reflective 'The Way It’s Always Been'.
He does wheel out the big guns in the end: 'Human', followed straight away by 'Mr Brightside' to close, anthemic choruses making sure no one goes home empty-handed. Before the encore we’re treated to a bit of a speech, a thank you to his band and to his fans: 'Most of us up here have social problems in our adolescence, that's why we end up here... And it's only you guys who keep us at it.' Most of us do too, I think to myself, remembering the long evenings I spent alone, on MSN Messenger and listening to Hot Fuss. But of course that’s the point; he knows he’s talking to everyone, as he rounds off the night with 'Only The Young', singing to everyone too, whatever their birth certificates say.
This is the power of pop, the ability to take you from a wet, West London weeknight to Fabulous Las Vegas, back to your childhood or to someone else's, and to connect people via nothing more than a big band tune and a catchy, optimistic chorus. Flowers’ solo sojourn has proved that he’s not just the frontman of a great band, but something a little bit special. A preacher, a poet, a politician all rolled into one: the perfect pop star.