Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

Fran Healy, Brandon Flowers go solo for tour, CDs

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franhealy.jpgThe year 2010 may be counted as the period when all the alt-rockers went solo. Ed Kowalczyk showed up with a solo record that sounded just like his band, Live. Bloc Party's Kele Okereke, Sigur Ros' Jonsi, Beulah's Miles Kurosky -- they all stepped outside their bands for solo records. Even giants like the Killers (in America) and Travis (in Britain) took a break while their frontmen, Brandon Flowers and Fran Healy, respectively, toured without them.

"We've both left our wives," Healy says.

BRANDON FLOWERS
with Fran Healy
♦ 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
♦ Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine
♦ Tickets: $30, (800) 514-ETIX; jamusa.com

He's speaking metaphorically of the tour he and Flowers are on together currently, both of them musical bachelors for the first time in a decade or more. "I've always compared [being in a band] -- even now in this interview I'm doing it again-- to being married. But while you can't have an affair behind your wife's back, in a band it's actually cool to do that, to work with other musicians, affect the cross-pollination, because everything feeds back into your art. I'd sort of dutifully never considered it. I hope it's not too late."

Travis was consummated as a band 14 years ago with the release of "Good Feeling," so Healy missed his first seven-year itch, musically speaking. (He and wife Nora Kryst have been together for a decade and have a 4-year-old son.) The Killers have been together just shy of a decade. Travis, in fact, inspired the Killers to come alive.

"Brandon and I met when both of our bands played at the Live 8 concert [in 2005]," Healy says. "On that occasion, the first thing he said to me was, 'We played your song at our first gig.' It was their first-ever show together as the Killers, and they performed a song of mine called 'Side' [from the 2001 Travis album 'The Invisible Band']. He then told me about this show we played. We supported Oasis in 1999 -- no, 2000. They played a date in Las Vegas [the Killers' hometown], and apparently everyone who was anyone came to that show. All kinds of people have come and talked to me about that show. And Brandon was telling me that that gig was ... ah, my English is failing me -- the catalyst, I guess, for bringing those people into the same room together to form a band."

The two singer-songwriters stayed in touch, and when Healy heard that Flowers was heading out to tour his new solo record, "Flamingo," he e-mailed him to ask if Flowers had signed up a support act.

Healy's solo debut, "Wreckorder," features 10 songs not too far removed from the Travis formula. He didn't change it up much, no rocking out or detouring into dance-pop. It's the same high voice fluttering over some pretty traditional songs.

"I'm just doing what I always do. The only difference is who's playing the instruments," he says.

On this tour, that's just Healy playing the new tunes and Travis classics on acoustic guitar. Some of those Travis songs have come alive for him by playing them this way. It's just the kind of fresh perspective he says he needed.

"We've been in this band more than 14 years now, and I never once looked outside the room," Healy says. "This allowed me to finally punch a huge, big hole in the wall. I'm only now seeing the possibilities."

"Wreckorder" spotlights two notable guests. Neko Case duets on "Sing Me to Sleep." On the album's best track, a bittersweet love story called "As It Comes," the soft bass line is played by another rocker who knows something about going solo: Paul McCartney.

"Throughout the last decade, I'd met him a bunch of times. I think we got on quite well. It's not like I'm phoning him up: 'Hey, Paul!' But I had this song, and I wanted a bass player who'd be really brilliant on it. Everyone overlooks Paul's bass-playing skill because he's such a great songwriter. I e-mailed him, asking him to play on the song. Two or three weeks later I get this reply: 'Love it, let's do it.'"

The song, about an elderly man who never tells his wife how much he loves her until it's too late, neatly figures -- lyrically and musically -- as a possible companion piece to McCartney's "When I'm 64."

"You know, that's true. I absolutely agree with you. Of course, now it sounds Beatley because there's a Beatle on it. But there's a chord change around 'Now I'm taking every day' that's very Beatley. Perhaps it was meant to be."

Travis, fear not, is still a going concern. The Killers aren't dead, either.

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on November 18, 2010 5:00 PM.

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