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The Killers, face of Las Vegas rock, a coup for Life Is Beautiful festival


“When you think of Vegas rock, or Vegas indie style,” Life Is Beautiful festival founder Rehan Choudhry says, “you think skinny jeans and dusty environment and denim jackets, and the desert and an old Chevy in neon lights.”

It sounds like he has the lyrics of just one Vegas rock band in mind.

But if The Killers aren’t the embodiment of Vegas rock, then who?

“I guess somebody had to (define it) at some point,” Killers drummer Ronnie Vannucci says. “We’re not trying to do that, but we’re from Vegas, and …” he pauses to laugh, “I guess it just works out like that.

“Time definitely helps with the identifier, putting a face to a place and creating that image, I guess,” Vannucci adds. “It takes time to do that, too. It’s crazy to think that 10 years ago we released the first record. Next thing you know, it’ll be 20 years.”

The Killers were considered a key “get” to establish the two-day festival and give it early credibility. But the homecoming date as Sunday’s main event whets the appetite for a best-of compilation, “Direct Hits,” due Nov. 11, to celebrate those 10 years.

It was 2001 when guitarist Dave Keuning’s ads in local weeklies caught the attention of Brandon Flowers, a Gold Coast bellhop who sang and played keyboards in a group called Blush Response.

The first song they wrote together was called “Mr. Brightside,” and the “Hot Fuss” hit two years later also leads off the collection.

“We tried to come up with some other order to create this nice feeling and this arc, but it was so jumbled we just decided to do it in chronological order,” Vannucci says of the release.

“I’m a big Tom Petty fan and when I listened to that anthology (‘Through the Years’), that’s in chronological order too.”

Along with the 13 catalog tracks, the compilation includes the unreleased “Just Another Girl” and “Shot at the Night,” the latter promoted in a video offering more Vegas visuals: a minimovie of a hotel maid (Bella Heathcote) swept off her feet by a guest (Max Minghella).

“I like the kind of between-the-lines aspect of it. I like to see how it changes as time went on,” Vannucci says of the compilation. “I’m listening for, how did these guys grow as songwriters and players? How is the production changing?”

Vannucci, who played the Vegas rock scene in his earliest days with the band Attaboy Skip, signed on as The Killers’ drummer after watching an early gig at a local bar.

Once Mark Stoermer completed the lineup as bassist, The Killers polished their ’80s-inspired sound in Vannucci’s garage, or snuck into a rehearsal studio in the Alta Ham Fine Arts building at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

(In 2008, when the UNLV College of Fine Arts honored the band, Vannucci and Stoermer thanked the school and apologized for commandeering the free rehearsal space.)

The 2003 release of “Hot Fuss” soon had London, and later the folks over here, singing along to “Somebody Told Me.” But the ’80s synth-pop, New Order leanings gradually transformed into the more anthemic, sweeping sound of tunes such as “Miss Atomic Bomb” from last year’s “Battle Born.”

“You never know what’s around the corner though,” Vannucci says of the evolution.

Like most best-of compilations, “Direct Hits” is a contractual obligation to Island Records, but not one the label put a rush on. “If we wanted to wait another year it was fine, but it’s a good idea,” Vannucci says. “We’ve got enough for a CD, so put it out and move on to the next chapter.”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

 

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