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At 97X Next Big Thing, the Killers bring big Vegas style back to Tampa

A day after an intimate Ybor City club show, the band scaled up to show why they’re still one of the world’s top alt-rock acts. | Concert review
The Killers headlined the opening night of 97X Next Big Thing on Nov. 22, 2019 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa.
The Killers headlined the opening night of 97X Next Big Thing on Nov. 22, 2019 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa. [ JAY CRIDLIN | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Nov. 23, 2019

A decade or a day. In the end, what's the difference?

For the Killers, who headlined Night 1 of 97X Next Big Thing on Friday, it was nil. Sure, they played an intimate warm-up concert for a few lucky fans in Ybor City on Thursday. But Friday’s show at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre was the Glastonbuy headliners’ proper return to a major Tampa stage, a trip Brandon Flowers called “long overdue.”

RELATED: The Killers played a club show in Tampa Thursday. Here’s how it went.

“We played last night at the Orpheum,” the singer said. “Before that it was 2009. 2009. That is too long. The only thing that I can think — the one good thing that has come from that —is we’ve had a lot of practice these last 10 years. So you are getting us at an elevated stage.”

And the Killers at their elevated best are among the best in the biz, capable of headlining almost any major festival. That said, Next Big Thing isn’t Glastonbury, and Friday’s kickoff didn’t draw a Glastonbury crowd; there were plenty of open seats and green spots on the lawn. Why? Blame a late announcement for the Killers’ addition to the lineup, maybe; or blame the Orpheum show, which did steal a bit of Next Big Thing’s thunder.

But you can't blame Flowers and the Killers.

The Killers headlined the opening night of 97X Next Big Thing on Nov. 22, 2019 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa.
The Killers headlined the opening night of 97X Next Big Thing on Nov. 22, 2019 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa. [ JAY CRIDLIN | Tampa Bay Times ]

All warmed up from the night before, Flowers strutted out in a trim, shiny blazer primed to entertain, grinning with devilish glee and clicking his heels on Jenny Was a Friend of Mine and Somebody Told Me, both from their 2004 debut Hot Fuss.

Every pose he struck against the glitzy gold backdrop looked like a neon marquee from the Strip in their hometown of Las Vegas. They boosted their props and pyro budget accordingly, blasting out confetti on the Superfly-style swag jam The Man and the chant-along All These Things That I’ve Done, and singing beneath a shower of sparks on When You Were Young.

The Killers’ synthesized spin on Springsteen killed with the diehards on Runaways and the majestic, triumphant Shot At The Night. They showed off their slithery, sinister side with the ominous, Tangerine Dream tones of Smile Like You Mean It; and the roboticized heart of Dancer. And they had the whole place hopping and hollering along to Mr. Brightside, which started off with a kiss in the form of smooth, gentle synths; before kicking into overdrive with its signature guitar riff. Ten years is definitely too long to go without hearing that one live.

But the band played to the crowd in other ways, too. Flowers brought an audience member on stage to spell drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. on For Reasons Unknown, and flat-out accepted a $20 bribe from an audience member to play Bones.

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“Money always works,” he said. And then afterward, to the fan: “Was it worth it?”

If there was a flaw in booking the Killers as Next Big Thing headliners, it’s that they aren’t exactly “next.” Three of Friday’s four bands had roots in the 2000s, not the 2010s. That even included relatively new openers I Don’t Know How But They Found Me, featuring former Panic! At The Disco member Dallon Weekes, who crooned out a mean cover of Beck’s Debra.

Dallon Weekes of I Don't Know How But They Found Me performs at 97X Next Big Thing on Nov. 22, 2019 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa.
Dallon Weekes of I Don't Know How But They Found Me performs at 97X Next Big Thing on Nov. 22, 2019 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa. [ JAY CRIDLIN | Tampa Bay Times ]

Stealing the early part of the show was PVRIS, a mood-rocky quartet featuring one of music’s underrated frontwomen, Lynn Gunn. Playing what Gunn said was their first show since September (“I’m like, How the f--- do we do this again?”), the group smoldered, tentatively then confidently, through a series of chugging, electropop-tinged, in-my-feelings bangers, with Gunn and fellow guitarist Alex Babinski layering smart, richly textured licks on songs like St. Patrick and Death of Me.

Singer Lynn Gunn and PVRIS perform at 97X Next Big Thing on Nov. 22, 2019 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa.
Singer Lynn Gunn and PVRIS perform at 97X Next Big Thing on Nov. 22, 2019 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa. [ JAY CRIDLIN | Tampa Bay Times ]
Singer Lynn Gunn and PVRIS perform at 97X Next Big Thing on Nov. 22, 2019 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa.
Singer Lynn Gunn and PVRIS perform at 97X Next Big Thing on Nov. 22, 2019 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa. [ JAY CRIDLIN | Tampa Bay Times ]

Switchfoot kept the rock 'n' roll vibe going — literally, in the case of their crashing cover of Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll; and figuratively, in the case of frontman Jon Foreman’s infectious, hair-whipping vitality. Between The OC-style emo power ballads like Meant to Live and Dare You To Move, they worked in If The House Burns Down Tonight, a driving rock number dedicated to first responders; and Float, during which Foreman hopped across the pit barrier to mix it up with fans in the GA.

“I love this place!” Foreman said. “You guys are beautiful!”

Singer Jon Foreman and Switchfoot perform at 97X Next Big Thing on Nov. 22, 2019 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa.
Singer Jon Foreman and Switchfoot perform at 97X Next Big Thing on Nov. 22, 2019 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa. [ JAY CRIDLIN | Tampa Bay Times ]
Singer Jon Foreman and Switchfoot perform at 97X Next Big Thing on Nov. 22, 2019 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa.
Singer Jon Foreman and Switchfoot perform at 97X Next Big Thing on Nov. 22, 2019 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa. [ JAY CRIDLIN | Tampa Bay Times ]
Singer Jon Foreman and Switchfoot perform at 97X Next Big Thing on Nov. 22, 2019 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa.
Singer Jon Foreman and Switchfoot perform at 97X Next Big Thing on Nov. 22, 2019 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa. [ JAY CRIDLIN | Tampa Bay Times ]

Flowers never got as close to Friday’s crowd than he did Thursday at the Orpheum. But he did touch them in other ways. Midway through the set, he played the ultimate Florida trump card by tossing in a cover of Tom Petty’s American Girl, even weaving in a little Free Fallin', with an old photo of Gainesville’s favorite son up on stage behind him.

"There could be a god. There must be a god. How else could we have Tom Petty?" Flowers said. "If you miss him, if you're thankful for him, make some noise!"

A day, a decade, it doesn’t matter. That alone was worth the wait.

The Killers headlined the opening night of 97X Next Big Thing on Nov. 22, 2019 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa.
The Killers headlined the opening night of 97X Next Big Thing on Nov. 22, 2019 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa. [ JAY CRIDLIN | Tampa Bay Times ]

97X Next Big Thing

The festival continues at 10 a.m. Sunday with the 1975, Judah and the Lion, the Revivalists, Silversun Pickups and more. Tickets are $35 and up. Click here for details.

RELATED: AJR cancels performance at Sunday’s 97X Next Big Thing due to illness

RELATED: Get the schedule and et times for the 1975, Judah and the Lion and more at 97X Next Big Thing

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