With his messy hair and incredible guitar riffs, Dave Keuning manages to be one of the closest things that the 21st century has to a rock star. Of course, it helps that he's a member of a household-name band. the Killers have had 5 consecutive chart topping albums and 3 Grammy nominated songs. And if you've ever been in a party when Mr. Brightside started playing, then, well, you know. It's like a bomb goes off.
That's why it's so wild that Keuning's performance of his solo project in NYC was tucked away in the iconic but rather small Mercury lounge, in front of maybe a hundred people.
But this project doesn't come with an ego. The very last of the Killers to put out a solo album, Keuning never had any aspirations as a front man. "This all just kind of fell into place by necessity. I had to make the music or I'd go crazy," he says. "And then I had to get some vocals on it." Despite originally planning on getting an outside vocalist, he eventually decided to front the band himself. "It allows me to have more control over the music… there's a lot more freedom when I'm the singer and the guitar player."
And Keuning was happy to have fun taking advantage of his newfound freedom. "The keyboards were around me, and I would explore them and come up with something, and then the next day I'd go downstairs and play guitar and come up with something great on guitar." He says nonchalantly. "I'm just kind of searching and fishing for some cool sounding thing."
The two singles he's released so far, "Prismism" (which shares the name of his upcoming album, out this January) and "Restless Legs," embody this explorative spirit. They're both unique, from each other and from any other song. Keuning isn't going for any particular sound- as he puts it, he knows it when he hears it.
When Keuning steps onto the stage, though, it's clear what kind of sound's he's drawn to- and possibly what influence he has had over the Killers. Although some of his songs could fit right into one of the band's sets, they lean heavily towards the 80s synth influence that the Killers embraced but never fully embodied. (For the fans- think "Human," not "When We Were Young.")
Keuning didn't talk much during his set, but when he did, his persona was relaxed and personable. The first time he leaned into the mic, it was well into his set. "Uh… we have 2, 3, maybe 4 songs left," he mumbled. "I dunno, we'll play by ear, depending on what you guys want." The response from the crowd was so loud that he actually took a step back. "Ok, maybe 4 or 5 then."
Not that 4 or 5 songs was nearly enough. When Keuning leaned into the mike to say "Ok, this is the last one we have for you." The entire crowd boo'd. "Keep playing forever!" one girl near the front yelled.
"Um, I don't think that's allowed," he replied.
But after the show, Keuning stuck around to talk to the audience, take photos and sign autographs. It was a remarkable thing to see, and his friendliness and fondness towards his fans, mixed with his perfectly unique set, definitely contributed to an experience that I was not anticipating when I stepped into the dimly lit Mercury Lounge that night. But, according to Keuning, that's most people's reaction.
"Whatever it is they're expecting, I think I'm usually something else."