“Sam’s Town,” the Killers sophomore Island release, is the Las Vegas band’s obvious attempt to be taken seriously. But both the album and the band’s current arena tour, which was booked into Staples Center Monday night and brings them to Madison Square Garden April 28, still finds them flogging warmed-over ’80s styles. This time, instead of New Order and the Psychedelic Furs, it’s “Born in the USA”-era Springsteen and the U2 of “Joshua Tree,” including the video that opens the show, with its self-conscious high-contrast black-and-white images of the band standing in the desert.
But the Vegas-based band has the same relationship to the originals that Caesars Palace has to ancient Rome and Paris Las Vegas has to Paris, France: They take the most easily recognizable aspects, expand them and strip them of all context and soul. They can write these big, anthemic arena-sized melodies, but the emotions behind them are small and bloodless. It takes more than a couple of references to fairgrounds and cars to turn “This River Is Wild” into convincing Springsteen-styled Americana. And guitarist Dave Keuning can layer on all the Edge-y harmonic fifths he wants, and Brandon Flowers can strain his voice while singing “the devil’s water/it ain’t so sweet,” but there’s no way it will sound Bono-fide.
Bookending the 90-minute show with the ponderously titled “enterlude” and “exitlude,” (“it’s good to have you with us, even if it’s just for a day”) and reprising the self-consciously poetic refrain from “Read My Mind” (“The good old days, the honest man/The restless heart, the Promised Land”) attempt to give the evening a conceptual coherence it doesn’t earn — the staging seems more concerned with how much confetti it can pump out.
The band’s weaknesses are most glaring on their cover of Joy Division’s “Shadowplay,” which falls laughably short of the original. And “Glamorous Indie Rock and Roll” is a mirthless parody, the work of someone who feels the need to lash out at the cool kids who have excluded him. He can try all he wants, but a show this pompous and empty-headed is never going to get their attention.