Las Vegas Is A City With Fake Things, We Get It

Nov 25th, 2008 // 14 Comments

The few remaining writers who make some money from writing record reviews must have been thrilled when The Killers’ Day And Age got added to the release schedule, because the first few lines of their review were pretty much already written. You see, the Killers are from Las Vegas. Las Vegas has an image, promoted by the city’s own tourism board, as being a glitzy city full of debauchery that never sleeps. Right? Well, it may be the popular conception of the city, but that doesn’t mean that a) said idea is all that accurate or b) the city’s image should be the premise of every single press piece. Although possibly not the most guilty party, Rob Harvilla trades in the stereotype in the Village Voice this week:

You can imagine that growing up in Las Vegas would give you wildly distorted and entirely wayward ideas about what the rest of the world is actually like, that you would come to regard the pervasive neon, the garish glitz, the profound seediness, the rampant amorality as totally normal and commonplace—a lurid fantasy world that completely defines your reality. But the Strip is not Main Street. That’s not really the Eiffel Tower, that’s not really Caesar’s Palace, that’s not really New York City, and that’s not really a woman.

Are there ersatz qualities to the Killers sound? Possibly. Did those qualities emanate from living in the same town as a replica of the Eiffel Tower? Probably not. I don’t suspect Harvilla has been to Las Vegas, or if he has that he spent any amount of time away from the Strip, but the majority of Las Vegas is indistinguishable from Phoenix or Albuquerque, outside of the video poker machines in convenience stores. To blame Brandon Flowers’ admittedly strange worldview on the lights of the Strip would be as misguided as saying Caetano Veloso’s music is entirely based on Rio’s Carnaval.

Can you help but be aware of the tourist trade when living in Las Vegas? Sure, but there’s an entire economy and tens of thousands of families who live far from the Bellagio fountain. If anything, the Killers are representative of an America misguided by what pop culture and media present as reality, filled with people who take their immediate impressions of things at face value. And it’s a malady that music critics, unfortunately, aren’t immune to.

More Nonsensical Digital-Heartland Anthems From The Killers [Village Voice]

  1. MayhemintheHood

    “I don’t suspect Harvilla has been to Las Vegas, or if he has that he spent any amount of time away from the Strip, but the majority of Las Vegas is indistinguishable from Phoenix or Albuquerque, outside of the video poker machines in convenience stores.”

    Exactly. My parents bought a house around Las Vegas a couple years ago, and I was excited to take a vacation there and take over their place. Unfortunately, it turned out to be Orange County, without lawns.

  2. Audif Jackson Winters III

    I think a much more interesting angle is Flowers’ relationshp with Mormonism, and the (by my observation) fairly interesting phenonemon of a town like Las Vegas having a fairly large and visible Mormon population.

    But you’re right … Las Vegas, outside of the Strip, is a pretty non-descript, Southwestern city, full of many neighborhoods filled with tract housing of varying quality, and indistinuishable strip malls. My sense is that kids there are fairly insulated from what goes on, on the Strip. They know it’s there, but it really isn’t accessible to them.

    In fact, to point out how much the “real” Las Vegas blands out thing you can only do in Vegas, the huge phenonmeon over the past decade has been the growth of nice “locals’ casinos” which blend traditional casino gambling with upscale fast food, bowling alleys, mall shopping and movie theaters. Just another thing for families to do on a Friday night.

  3. jetsetjunta

    Good points all, but at least one song on the new album, “Joy Ride” takes as its primary subject the hollowness of the Strip, and similar imagery pops up on the rest of the album. So I don’t think it’s too terrible a stretch to imagine the band considers itself as much the product of overdevelopment and suburban malaise as of the history of casinos and entertainment culture in Vegas, or that Brandon Flowers’ diverging interests (brokedown Americana, glammy dance-rock) could both have a lot to do with aspects of his hometown.

  4. Dan Gibson

    @jetsetjunta: I don’t pretend to think that the band is entirely isolated from life on the Strip (if I remember correctly, several of the band members worked at casinos at one point or another), but in general, to assume that say, the entirety of _Sam’s Town_ can be viewed through the paradigm of the big casinos and their version of reality is, to me, just lazy.

  5. Ned Raggett

    A few years back I joined some friends on a trip to Vegas and we went to the excellent restaurant Lotus of Siam, down some blocks from the Strip on Sahara. The contrast between the Strip and everything else was enlightening.

  6. Audif Jackson Winters III

    @Ned Raggett: Commercial Center. Now that shows you yet another side of Las Vegas … the areas that immediately surround the strip, that were abandoned by more affluent families, and now largely are home to lower-rung service industry folks (the dishwashers and cleaning staff at the hotels), and the valley’s growing immigrant community. Now, some may say *that* is the real Las Vegas.

  7. mike a

    I’ve only been to Vegas once, but I made a point one day of getting on a bus and going to what was Balcony Lights record store at the time (it’s since closed, I think). I remember thinking, “OK. As soon as you leave the strip, it’s basically flat sprawl.” And I remember not being surprised one bit by that revelation.

  8. The Illiterate

    Based on one listen to Day and Age, I’d say the desert is much more important to Flowers’ world view than the strip.

  9. AutonomyBoy

    I don’t know, I’m sure not everybody in Las Vegas is overly burdened by the glitz and $4.50 orange juice, but the killers’ image, at least at the get-go, was all about sleaze and pop and being very sweaty and commercial at the same time (i mean, it’s debatable how successful they were, but still.) so, i don’t know, it sort of makes sense, even if it is sort of an obvious reference point for music writers to pick up on. also, you know, it’s not like they’re the first group to ever come out of that area code:

  10. Anonymous

    My aunt lives there, and, aside from being the “cool aunt,” I can’t see that she’s really any more immoral or emotionally empty than my other aunts. Judging someone (or a band) based on the major landmark of the city they live in doesn’t make any sense. I live in Indianapolis, and I hate auto racing. I used to live in Kentucky, and I’ve only ridden a horse once in my life. I agree that laziness is rampant in any form of journalism, including music criticism.

  11. Dan Gibson

    @owenmeany: A music website with stories about a band that released an album this week! Shocking!

  12. KurticusMaximus

    I think the point is, while the Strip-angle is valid to some extent (didn’t they spell out their name in neon lights on the cover of their first album?), it’s fundamentally lazy to just keep trotting out the band’s place of origin for every album review.

    I mean, the Killers have kind of brought it upon themselves, since their music really does sound like being surrounded by neon in the middle of a desert, but still.

  13. Anonymous

    I can’t wait for Idolator to write more stories with The Killers in them!!

  14. Brad Nelson

    As someone born and raised in Las Vegas, the “Orange County without lawns” comment is fairly accurate (though some denizens insist on growing grass in the goddamn desert) concerning non-Strip, non-downtown Vegas, a sprawl of tedious normalcy if their ever was one, bolstered by a bizarrely-there Mormon population.

    Also the comment about Balcony Lights made me pine briefly for days gone by.

    I’ve always disliked the tendency of lazy critics to marry sense-of-place to a band’s sonic output. The Killers don’t sound any more like Las Vegas than R.E.M. do Athens. We’re also home to Panic at the Disco (an association some are maybe less proud of but damnit Pretty. Odd was pretty. good, man) and I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to identify pop psychedelia or even their first album’s dance-emo-baroque-bullshit to the “glitz and glamor” Vegas cliche.

    Though I can’t say the Killers don’t invite it. They named their second album Sam’s Town for chrissakes. Must’ve made one-sheet writing a breeze.

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