By Alex Sousa, Managing Editor, @TwoFistedSousa
I saw Imagine Dragons over three years ago at the Velour, a dimly lit and intimate music hovel in downtown Provo. That stage was small, the building had a 250 person capacity and the band was one that seemed to still be finding its direction. That was not the same band I saw tonight playing for a crowd of over 8,000 in a full-blown rock show at the UCCU Events Center.
I’m not talking about the changes they’ve made to their lineup. The Imagine Dragons of today are a fully realized indie rock ensemble whose fan base has grown exponentially since their inception four years ago. These are born showmen built for the big stage and high energy antics to accompany the pounding beat of their modern rock.
Even without their theatrics—which are something to behold—Imagine Dragons knows how to captivate an audience, at the very least by tantalizing and teasing with long, wailing riffs in between songs that excite and entice the audience to the point of overflow.
Much of their stage presence comes from frontman Dan Reynolds. He is pure energy who held the massive audience in his palm. He’s gracious and humble, it’s easy to understand why so many people like him and respond so well to him.
Three years ago, when I saw them, Reynolds was just as rambunctious, but his movements seemed awkward and frantic. Now, after this most recent performance, I understand that, if anything, Reynolds was merely stifled by the size of the venue. His stage persona is too big for those paltry venues they’ve spent the better part of their career playing. Imagine Dragons, and Reynolds most of all, demands a big stage and a big audience.
He spent a good portion of his banter preaching a gospel of freedom to the crowd who eagerly pumped their fists in solidarity to his words. Saying he believed that once a month, or at least once a year a person should make time to be completely free, he convinced the audience to hug their neighbor and prove they had shaken off any shackles we might have been bound by. Reynolds’ antics are sprawling and his energy takes up the whole stage—sometimes even more than that.
Many times the crowd swayed in time during their interludes, eagerly anticipating whatever came next. And that eager anticipation would boil over into applause for absolutely no reason at all, other than the crowd just being that excited to be there, to be a part of it, to witness the spectacle before them. And they were definitely met with spectacle.
One of the longest interludes came at the halfway mark of the show, while Reynolds disappeared off stage. He came back for an over-the-top performance of their hit single “Radioactive,” what would be the high-water mark of the show. In an example of Reynolds needing more than just the stage to contain his energy, he was hoisted fifty feet in the air above the audience where he beat away at a drum attached to the fixtures above. As he ascended over the crowd they roared in applause. I felt those tingles that can only be caused by absolute awe. And that’s part of the brilliance of Imagine Dragons—they know how to reward their fans.
And their fans are an eclectic mix which employs the type of rabid fanaticism that was captured on news reels during the height of Beatlemania. The roar of the crowd was deafening, at times even overpowering the music itself, a truly impressive feat for an indoor venue and such a raucous sound.
I spent the better part of the opening acts—Nico Vega and Utah’s own The Moth & The Flame—sandwiched between a muscle-bound behemoth and a scraggly hipster. In front of us was a family of four, parent who probably hadn’t been to a rock show since the pinnacle of grunge in the early 90’s and their two teenage kids who were young enough or secure enough not to care that they were at a concert with their parents. It’s a fan base that has grown so fast it’s like that of a band beyond the years of Imagine Dragons.
I wondered how many people in that crowd there had been at that same show I saw in early 2010. Surely there had to be someone, but they were lost in the crowd of new faces. It was obvious that many of the people there were not the diehard concert type. There was complaining about the heat, the standing, and the waiting—all staples of live shows. So, what had brought out so many new faces, I wondered. Why would this band be the one to bring them here?
Brandon Robbins, frontman of the Moth and the Flame nailed it during the opening act. “We know you all have dreams” he said as he went on to talk about how amazing it was to stand in front of that crowd, and play as a supporting artist for their headlining friend. This is what they had always wanted, they were living the dream. And maybe that’s what this is all about; maybe that’s why so many people were at this show.
Imagine Dragons means so much more to us than a critically acclaimed artist. They represent the thing we all want. Because no matter what we do, we all want to be rock stars. Not that we all want to get up on stage and be met with the adoration of fans, but we want what those real rock and rollers have. We want freedom, we want to love what we do, and we want to be so good at it that nobody can tell us how we should be doing it.
Imagine Dragons represent the living dream, that little piece of immortality. And as Reynolds ascended once more above the crowd during the final encore, exalting himself above the crowd, one could almost reach out and grab a piece of it.
“We’ll keep coming back” Reynolds said, “as long as you’ll keep having us.” This is a homecoming, of sorts, for Imagine Dragons who were briefly based here in their early days. They’re prophets in their own land here, preaching of freedom, love and revolution, I suppose. But can it last, I wonder? It got so big, so fast is the dream enough to sustain us? They have a sound that’s clearly connected to so many people, but it’s up to those people to keep them exalted.