Thursday, April 29, 2004 | 8:13 a.m.
Las Vegan Mark Stoermer figured he would get to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival one day, his finances and work schedule permitting.
"I've always wanted to go, but I could never afford it or get the time off from work," Stoermer said.
On Sunday, Stoermer will finally get his chance to attend Coachella, though he won't be among tens of thousands of paying fans at Empire Polo Field in Indio, Calif.
Rather, the 26-year-old bassist will be onstage. His band, the Killers, are set to become the first Las Vegas-based band to play Coachella - called "the best American festival" by Rolling Stone magazine - in the event's five-year history.
Among the other 81 acts on the two-day bill: headliners Radiohead (Saturday) and the Cure (Sunday), along with the recently reunited Pixies, German electronic pioneers Kraftwerk and alterna-rock veterans the Flaming Lips.
The Killers are tentatively scheduled to play Sunday at 4:15 p.m. in the Gobi Tent, one of the festival's five stages.
"It's just crazy to be on the same bill with the Cure and Radiohead," Brandon Flowers, vocalist and keyboardist for the Killers, said in a phone interview last week as he, Stoermer, guitarist David Keuning and drummer Ronnie Vannucci rolled past Iowa's cornfields in their tour van en route to a Minneapolis gig.
Echoed Stoermer: "It's gonna be groovy ... to even be anywhere near where the Cure and Radiohead and the Pixies are playing. It's a great opportunity for us to play in front of a lot of music lovers, and we also get to go watch other bands after we get done playing."
As for getting days off work, Stoermer and his bandmates don't have to worry about such concerns anymore. All four quit their day jobs late last year, around the same time they signed a deal with major label Island Records, a subsidiary of the Universal Music Group.
For Stoermer, that meant leaving behind a part-time job as a courier for health testing provider Quest Diagnostics and classes at UNLV. Flowers, 22, served as a bellhop at the Gold Coast. Vannucci, 28, worked as a wedding photographer, while Keuning, 28, held a position in retail sales.
Life has indeed taken a sharp turn for the Killers, who are bidding to become the rare Vegas rock band to make it big beyond the boundaries of Southern Nevada.
The quartet has already created a stir in Great Britain, having toured there several times in 2003 and 2004 after signing with independent British label Lizard King Records prior to joining Island's stateside roster.
"It's weird, we're bigger in London than we are in Las Vegas," Stoermer said. "In London, we've sold out shows with 400 or 500 people already."
The Killers have been featured prominently in several popular UK music magazines, including NME (New Musical Express), an influential publication, which named the Vegas act one of 10 "Bands to Watch in 2004."
The British press has nearly universally praised the band's sound, an update on the 1980s New Wave stylings of such outfits as the Smiths and Duran Duran, as well as the quartet's somewhat retro attire.
And, of course, British interviewers have latched onto the Killers' Las Vegas roots as an obvious angle for most reports on the band.
"In England they look at you like you're an alien when you say that you're from Las Vegas," Flowers said. "We've had people ask us what hotel we live in.
"It's funny, but it's actually also been a blessing, because it separates us from other bands out there."
The Killers' first single, "Mr. Brightside," earned consistent airplay in England last year, selling out completely on both CD and vinyl formats.
The catchy second single, "Somebody Told Me" -- which includes the clever refrain "Somebody told me / You had a boyfriend / Who looked like a girlfriend / That I had in February of last year" -- recently cracked the the UK's Top 20 Singles chart.
"It debuted at No. 19, which is just unreal to us," Flowers said. "One of my favorite bands is the Smiths, and I just read an interview Morrissey did where he was talking about how excited he was when 'This Charming Man' came out in the charts at No. 59. So it hit me like a ton of bricks when 'Somebody Told Me' was No. 19."
The Killers are in the process of taking their newfound British notoriety to the States, touring extensively with fellow buzz band Stellastarr. Last month the Vegas quartet played prestigious Austin, Texas, music festival South By Southwest.
It's a drastic lifestyle change for a pair of Chaparral High School graduates (Flowers and Stoermer), one Western High alumnus (Vannucci) and one Iowa transplant (Keuning).
"Before the Killers I had never been east of Texas, and now we've been to Chicago, New York (City) twice and England four times," Stoermer said. "I had never been to another country except for Canada before this, and we were in England twice in one month recently."
The band's first full-length album, "Hot Fuss," is slated for a June 15 U.S. release (June 7 in England). The disc features 11 danceable tracks, most with singalong choruses and pleasant pop hooks.
The Killers' '80s flair might have sounded out of date just a few years ago. Now it's part of a burgeoning trend that has seen buzz bands such as the Rapture, Hot Hot Heat and the Sounds earn critical acclaim with a throwback, synthesized sound.
"What's happening is people are picking the good stuff out of the '80s," Flowers said. "It was taboo for a while, but that was just the hair metal or the stupid clothes, whatever they wanted to make fun of. But there were some awesome bands, and that's what's getting recognized again.
"All of a sudden (the Cure's) Robert Smith is like a god again. And Morrissey has a new album coming out and people are freaking out about it. Even Duran Duran is suddenly getting lifetime achievement awards."
Formed in the fall of 2001, the Killers pre-dated the recent swell of '80s-influenced acts, although Flowers doubts whether fans outside Las Vegas will know that.
"It's nice for us to know, but I don't know if other people are going to realize that," he said. "They'll probably just assume that we jumped on.
"But it's just what I've always liked, what I grew up on. The first thing I ever bought was the Cars' 'Greatest Hits' when I was 12. And I have a brother who's 34, and he was a big help to me."
Locals who got the chance to follow the Killers' moves at such area venues as the Huntridge Theatre, Tramps and Cafe Espresso Roma in the past may have to wait awhile before the Vegas products play their hometown again.
There are no Southern Nevada dates on the band's spring itinerary, and Stoermer said summer tour dates -- which have yet to be finalized -- may not include a Vegas stopover.
"We've played there so much, I can see not playing there for at least three months or so," Stoermer said. "It would be nice to have a big homecoming, but maybe it would be good to wait a little bit for that."
But, Flowers said, the Killers' desire to gain fans outside of Southern Nevada shouldn't be confused with a negative attitude toward the city in which they got their start.
"Being in other places has made us all appreciate Las Vegas even more," Flowers said. "People are a lot friendlier there, the food is great and it's cold everywhere else. We were in New York in January and it was sick. I don't know how people do it.
"No, I love Las Vegas. I don't think I'll ever leave."