Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Imagine Dragons proves captivating arena headliner at TWC Arena

While you can argue that a concert is always a shared experience, the ability to create the sort of unity Imagine Dragons captured Tuesday at Time Warner Cable Arena remains a rarity. U2 has been pulling it off for years. A Coldplay show is the closest thing I've experienced to a secular revival - and I'm not even a big fan. Imagine Dragons has that gift.

Tuesday's concert felt like a participatory event from the moment the Las Vegas band (with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Will Wells) hit the stage with the uplifting anthem "Shots."

The group reveled as much in its performance as the crowd did. Frontman Dan Reynolds (above) spent most of the show on the catwalk that extended into the audience and raced into the crowd at one point. Bassist Ben McKee (below) may be the jolliest performer I've ever seen. He mimed the words along with Reyolds, rallying the crowd with a toothy smile glued to his face. No one in the building looked happier than McKee singing along to songs like "Trouble" and the hit "It's Time."

Drummer Daniel Platzman and guitarist Wayne Sermon enjoyed themselves as well whether diving in on backup vocals, stepping from behind the drumkit or, in Sermon's case, shredding like Eddie Van Halen. This is not a band that's so self-serious it's afraid to smile on stage.

The only time Reynolds stopped long enough to speak other than to address opening bands Metric and Halsey and thank the crowd, it was to draw attention to the recent highs and lows America has experienced in the wake of the Charleston shootings and last week's Supreme Court decisions. Reynolds noted an audience that covered a diverse cross-section of races, ages, genders, and the like. He was right. There was a middle-aged mom and her grown son to my left and an Asian girl still learning English on my right, not to mention several parents with young children in tow. As Reynolds began Alphaville's "Forever Young" backed only by bass and synth he shared that he thought this generation would be the one to truly embrace diversity and see past all those divisive lines.

Cellphone lights circled like fireflies as the full band segued into "Smoke and Mirrors," the title track to its latest album. An exercise in dynamics, the drums kicked in like cannon fire (the sound engineer did such a flawless job this was the only point that I actually thought about it).

"I'm So Sorry" proved the highlight of the show outside of the driving pre-encore finale. The band got to show off its classic rock instincts with mid-song falsetto harmonies and Sermon again shredding like a maniac while drums and bass rumbled the floor. Those moments in particular illustrated Imagine Dragons' ability to merge disparate styles without sounding like a completely different band. There was world music, shades of stomp-and-shout Americana, bursts of dub step, hip-hop-inspired delivery, and singalongs that bordered on spirituals. The future is a place where electric guitar theatrics are at home with pop singalongs and electronic music.

"Friction" with its Muse-meets-Nine Inch Nails-meets-hip-hop vibe repeated the thundering urgency of "Sorry." The mood escalated as the crowd exploded for the homey anthem "I Bet My Life" and the showstopping monster hit "Radioactive," which saw every band member pounding a drum beneath a maze of red lasers. I saw no one scampering up the stairs to make a quick exit during the encore of "The Fall."

All three bands benefited from stunning lights shows from opener Halsey's dub step-aided light blasts to the wall of LEDs that flanked Metric to Imagine Dragons' vertical screen towers and lasers.

Twenty-year-old Halsey opened the show by mixing fantasy (castles, ghosts) and contemporary. Her most memorable track, "New Americana," focused on the "now" Reynolds later spoke of - a generation raised on Biggie and Nirvana, legal marijuana and a growing intolerance for inequality. The song seemed the most relevant and current statement of the night.

It's also nice to see a young woman wearing an oversize t-shirt and jeans. With cropped Kool-Aid blue hair, the diminutive singer looked more 14-year-old tomboy than your average fledgling pop singer. Plus, her voice is like Dido-meets-Sinead O'Connor.

Veteran Canadian indie rockers Metric (above) had to work a little harder despite a few alt-rock hits ("Stadium Love," "Help I'm Alive"). Frontwoman Emily Haines was up for the task, prancing and jogging in place in short shorts and legs that beckon for a Nair commercial. She donned a flowing sheer cape which swayed in the air behind her during the new single "Cascades" as the three men in the band sported neon glasses. Metric put on one of the best shows I've seen as a headliner at Neighborhood Theatre in 2010 and the Juno winning band can bask in the brighter spotlight. By the end the crowd was with her.

All three bands benefited from stunning lights shows from opener Halsey's dub step-aided light blasts to the wall of LEDs that flanked Metric to Imagine Dragons' vertical screen towers and lasers. The entire bill made for a consistent night, but Imagine Dragons demonstrated why they're one of a handful of young rock bands touring at this level. .