Sunday, May 8, 2011

This Kills Me

Here's another in an occasional series in which we try to make sense of confusingly similar band names – in this case, the Kills and the Killers. If you already know both these bands, you can pretty much tell the difference. It's the difference between stadium shows and dimly lit nightclubs.

The Killers are the stadium guys. Classic-rock sound, and high-profile fans like Bowie and McCartney. They're already big stars, but when they come back from their current hiatus, they'll likely as not be even bigger. At which point, there will be "killer" ticket prices to get to see them. Of course, they started out playing your dimly-lit clubs, too – about a decade ago in their hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada. Lead vocalist/keyboardist Brandon Flowers was inspired by the music of Oasis and the Cars to form a band, and advertised for players. Guitarist Dave Keuning was the first to answer, and the pair began writing songs together in 2001. One of those songs, "Mr. Brightside,"became a top ten hit in 2004, propelling their debut album Hot Fuss to triple platinum. The sophomore effort, Sam's Town, moved from the glam-rock sounds of the debut to a more Springsteenian focus, and sold less spectacularly, but still pleased many fans and critics. Following the worldwide tour to support 2008's Day and Age, the band went on hiatus in early 2010. They did, however, respond to an invitation from Barack Obama to play on the White House lawn last July 4. Oh, and they have a really cool website.

And with all due respect to the Killers, it's the Kills who make my heart go pit-a-pat. Their Wikipedia page names some of their professed inspirations as "Captain Beefheart, PJ Harvey, LCD Soundsystem, The Velvet Underground, The Fall, Patti Smith, Suicide and Royal Trux." With a list like that, they might as well have phoned me up and said "Hey Mark, we've started a band you might dig." And if "killer" ticket prices are the mnemonic device to help you remember the bigger band's big sound, then maybe "road kill" can help you recall the Kills. Not that they haven't achieved plenty of success, too, on their own terms. But they've deliberately cultivated a scruffy image that's a bit rougher around the edges (further from the middle of the road, if you will), and kept their distance from major-label record deals. Here's the backstory: Allison Mossheart and Jamie Hince, both veterans of several previous bands, met when the former heard the latter practicing guitar through her hotel room ceiling. They started writing songs together by mailing tapes back and forth across the Atlantic, before Allison took the plunge and moved to London. After three gritty, lo-fi albums, she found time to join a second band, the Dead Weather, with Jack White of the White Stripes. About a month ago the Kills released their fourth album, Blood Pressure, which is packed with great songs.

All the Killers clips on YouTube seem to have ads attached – not that there's anything wrong with that. But here's my favorite Kills song:

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