The Killers live at The Bridgestone Arena, Nashville 17.9.2022 with Johnny Marr supporting and hundreds of bands down the street
As soon as we booked this trip to the US I had a look at who was playing… and as luck had it The Killers were in Nashville with Johnny Marr on a date that worked. It was in an arena but an indoor one at least… about O2 Arena London size, just under at 19,891 capacity. The seats left were the cheapest ones, up in the gods but it was about being there.
The Bridgestone Arena, Nashville is surprisingly handy for the main entertainment district of Downtown Nashville – around The Broadway (The Honky Tonk Highway). This monster of a venue is a stone’s throw from Legends Corner bar at the top end of the Broadway strip of amazing music bars.
We went to the Arena earlier in the day and had a wander in the Sports Hall of Fame (The Arena is also is home to Nashville’s ice hockey team, The Predators) and the Music City Visitor Center. Tour trucks were in by mid-morning but no sign of the bands.
This was the sixth time I’ve seen The Killers – all huge venues London O2, Wembley Stadium, Hyde Park, Glastonbury, St Mary’s Southampton (my blog link to another messy one). Most, including this one, have involved a few beers – well that is one massive understatement. I just don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the frustration of being so far from the band and the easy distraction of an accessible bar. Well I blew it this time. An afternoon in Nashville; jet lag and travel fatigue; a few pints of unknown strength craft porter; searing heat and sunshine and an attraction to the Voodoo Ranger IPA on sale at the venue (which it transpires was 9%)… and now I realise why I was asleep in my seat for half of The Killers set. What a disaster. It could have been worse apparently as I was grabbed before a potentially neck breaking topple forward, after gasps from people behind us. (Note to self: check strength of all beers before getting involved.)
Any attempt to recollect The Killers’ set would be found wanting. My wife says it was the best we have seen them (we have had a few bad experiences – they are her favourite band) and I will have to go with that.
We were miles up mind, as you can see, such that Brandon Flowers was something of a blurry dot on my phone pics. As for my usual trusty pocket zoom, well I seemed to have messed up the settings after my initial flurry of snaps of Johnny Marr, who I was delighted and excited to see again: by then I was sporting my newly acquired t-shirt from the merch stand.
Marr did about 45 minutes with Smiths classics – There is a Light that Never Goes Out and How Soon is Now the best – and his own material – similar to the set I enjoyed in Glasgow at Easter when he supported Blondie. I really must try and get to one of his own gigs in a sensibly sized venue soon. I’m just finishing his autobiography, Set the Boy Free, which is an interesting and thorough account of The Smiths journey and a wonderful insight into his love of and involvement in music as he grew up to now.
After Marr’s set I was on the road to ruin to be honest and I even missed his emergence to play with The Killers in their set. You don’t see reviews like this in The Guardian or NME eh, although I sometimes wonder, reading some articles over the years, if journalists have occasionally suffered a similar fate and just made stuff up.
There was so much other music in Nashville to see though. The sounds of The Broadway bars and the streets off it are one of the most amazing experiences of my gig-going life. I’d heard about it and read about it but nothing can prepare you for that first sight of what it’s all about.
We arrived on a Friday afternoon, having driven from Gatlinburg in the Great Smoky Mountains, and took a walk from our hotel, down Printers Alley through a few blocks to the main crossroads in The Broadway. We stood on the corner waiting for the white man to allow us to cross and I looked over to Honky Tonk Central – a three storey corner building with all its big windows open and a band playing on every floor. I looked up the street: bands playing in the buildings both sides as far as I could see. And down the Lower Broadway more bands, more bars, more music. What a fabulous racket. I felt pretty emotional. Here I was: I’d made it to Nashville, Tennesee, Music City….. ‘Nashvegas’.
Over the next four days we explored – so many bands in different venues, for which there was never an entry charge, with bands paid by the ever present and sometimes paraded tips bucket. There’s a lot of country music and a rock/country split is common with bands gauging their audiences by requests and the shouts of ‘if you like country, gimme a yee haw – if you like rock, gimme a hell yeah’. The enthusiasm for and popularity of country music legends that I had never heard of was everywhere.
This is brief but helpful outline to the Nashville music scene but these below are my picks from the trip….with some snaps.
Let’s start with Legends Corner up the Arena end of The Broadway. A mural on the outside of country and western legends, with a couple I recognise. Inside a traditional old bar and walls plastered with photos, records, guitars and more. A relatively calm Monday lunchtime session here with a great seat to watch all the comings and goings and faces peering in from The Broadway.
A band assembled for that day play the prize song for tips quite early on, which I catch on my mobile: The Devil Went Down to Georgia.
Further down on that side of the street is The Stage on Broadway. Three storeys of bands and we settled on the rooftop bar with an outside terrace and inside stage. Good selection of craft ales.
Over on the South side of this main street is Nudie’s Honky Tonk. Another good option of a rooftop bar but with three floors. Bands on one and three when we visited and saw a solo singer-guitarist on three. Great views over The Broadway. Nudie’s own IPA is a winner.
Back across the street and down near the main crossroads is wonderfully named Lucky Bastard Saloon. I think I’ve been drinking in there for a while! This was more rocky and more edgy. Some heavier drinking going on.
The band we caught in there were full on. They did an Eminem song and the lead singer carried on as he jumped out of the window into the street. Great show. Some superb drumming.
The Tin Roof is over the lights on the same side, Lower Broadway. Good food and beer. The band in here was very rocky and included an American Idol nearly man.
Jason Aldean on the south side of The Broadway is a smarter restaurant venue. We had a good night on the upper floor being ushered to a front row table after a wait at the well stocked craft ale bar.
The Whiskey River Saloon is allied to the Lucky Bastard Saloon. A large modern bar with large stage downstairs. Rooftop sports bar up top was where we ended up for some food with American football fans chewing over the Sunday games. Should have stayed with the bands downstairs.
The Johnny Cash Bar and BBQ can’t be missed, surely. We went in a few times for a dose of Cash. Great mural and spacious. Bang ordinary food but the beer and the music’s good… Cashcentric obviously. The Johnny Cash Museum is next door.
Printers Alley leads up from The Broadway – some great places to explore. It can look a bit rough and dirty and at night even a bit creepy when it’s not busy, but some great places.
Skull’s Rainbow Room is the best, behind an unassuming front door. A more sophisticated feel and a sense of history. The flamboyant cocktail barman told us of how big names like Brian May came in when in town and how Paul McCartney had written Sally G about a bar girl there… we had tastes of smoky tequila and my wife Sally had some monstrous cocktail containing absinthe that came back to bite later. Lively crowd and a cabaret feel with a sort of Dean Martin type crooning.
The Taps is another rocking joint with good beers – quite a big place behind the single doorway. Inside 80s looking brick and ironwork.
Lastly and I would also say unmissable is the Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar. A taste of New Orleans with signage and iron balcony to aid the ambience. In there we sat peering over the stage in awe of a big old white man singing with an amazing bluesy voice and a superb guitarist with him. It was like stepping back in time. Every song introduced with a story or some reflection. This old guy’s face pained with a thousand blues song; eyes shut as he sang and the tip bucket filled.
When he finished he said they had to move on as the main band were coming on. They were just the warm up. We saw him walking down the street a few blocks away with his guitar later. Where was he going… what’s he doing now? Next time I’m in town I’ll be down Printers Alley looking for him.
I hope there is a next time. Nashville is one hell of a town and it absolutely rocks.