The Killers pulled a Milwaukee fan on stage to play bass at sensational Summerfest show

Erik Ernst
Special to the Journal Sentinel
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It’s rare for an arena-sized act to return to Milwaukee in under a year, especially without a new album. But here were The Killers on Summerfest's American Family Insurance Amphitheater stage Friday night, just 10 months removed from headlining the grand opening concert at Fiserv Forum in September.

Perhaps Brandon Flowers simply felt upstaged at that earlier show, where fans could’ve been forgiven for paying as much attention to the new arena on its opening night. Most likely, though, the band that still has a legitimate claim to being one of the biggest rock bands in the world just wanted to be part of the world’s largest music festival.

A week removed from a headlining spot at England’s Glastonbury Festival, Flowers jubilantly greeted the Milwaukee fans. “(Glastonbury) is a big deal,” Flowers said. “But if you want to know where our heads were while we were playing there, we just saw it as a rehearsal for tonight in Milwaukee. I’ve got a good feeling about tonight.”

It was an apt premonition.

The Killers headline the American Family Insurance Amphitheater on July 5, 2019.

Fronting the band as a six-piece format with four additional vocalists, Flowers was a natural showman, dressed in a black suit with colorfully bedazzled lapel. He strutted across the front of the stage’s audio monitors and posed dramatically as blue, white and green lasers flashed frenetically over the sold-out crowd on the opening “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine.”

In the restrained opening of “The Man,” he pulled a cowboy hat over his eyes and crouched down before the song’s tongue-in-cheek self-reverence — and a shower of pink confetti — exploded into a joyous revelry.

But as much as Flowers was at the center of the fun, the capacity crowd deserved equal credit for this night’s success.

Few Summerfest crowds are as uniformly engaged as this one was. They belted out every lyric with vigor, while bopping, jumping and pumping their fists in the aisles. They enthusiastically counted in the electro-synth pop of “The Way it Was” without prompting.

And one fan even joined the band. Midway through the set, a woman named Hannah from Milwaukee caught Flowers’ attention to let him know she plays bass. “Do you play with a pick?” he asked. “You got to play with a pick.” She shook her head no.

He invited her on stage for “For Reasons Unknown,” and she crushed the finger-picking performance like she had been on tour all year. After thanking her, Flowers was even a bit flustered as the crowd chanted her name while he re-centered himself for the next song. “All right, let's calm down,” he said with a knowing smile.

Calm, though, was not a word that would describe any of this fervor.

By the time the opening synthesizer chords of “Mr. Brightside” rang out in the encore, the crowd was out-singing Flowers as blinding lights brought the teeming masses together with the band as one, like they had already been all night.

The Killers picked a random fan from the crowd named Hannah, who got to play bass with the band for a song.

Death Cab for Cutie

In their hourlong opening set, Death Cab for Cutie was, not unexpectedly, much less energetic than The Killers. Aside from a few polite greetings to the crowd, frontman Ben Gibbard was more likely to sway than bounce — often fulfilling the emo shoe-gazing cliché.

But what the Washington band lacked in exuberance it made up for with musical creativity.

“Long Division” swelled into an ethereal crescendo of nearly untempered joy. “Northern Lights” drove along on a syncopated path, accented by the singer’s delicately reaching falsetto. The highlight of the set found the low bass-driven introduction of “I Will Possess Your Heart” grow with swelling levels of drums, synthesizers and experimental guitar melodies before Gibbard hopped behind the piano and added a new layer to the jam that had the audience clapping along — with muted enthusiasm, of course.

Death Cab for Cutie opens for the Killers at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater on July 5, 2019.


  • Flowers introduced guitarist and Fond du Lac native Ted Sablay, who had attended his first concert in the same venue. Honoring that INXS show, the band played a snippet of “Never Tear Us Apart,” which the crowd also sang back loudly.
  • The downfall of using confetti cannons twice in a show? The need to bring out leaf blowers to clear the stage before The Killers’ encore. 
  • Death Cab for Cutie eschewed the usual video of themselves performing on the amphitheater’s large screens, instead choosing to display an array of colorful video static patterns through their set.

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