Imagine Dragons with Halsey and Metric | 06.12.15

Imagine-Dragons 75_copyThe crowd again and again stood rapt and sang along with Reynolds, song after song.


Imagine-Dragons 500_copy

Scottrade Center, St. Louis

There are moments in your life when you feel the ground shifting beneath you. The world is turning and you are standing still. It might just leave you behind. I had one of those moments as I took in the three sets of what on paper looked to be three disparate acts, all having a claim to the same airspace figuratively and literally. On some occasions the stars align and the recent past, the present, and the future coexist for a moment, and the distinctions between them and their similarities are stark and confounding. I got my world rocked on a Friday night, and have been on a perpetual walk of shame ever since. This is going to take some explaining but not much.

Halsey is a problem. Performing as a three piece of digital instrumentation, drums, and Halsey herself fronting the band, they filled the arena with sound and confidence. There was no detectable sense of apprehension to be had. It didn’t matter how much of the audience was present, or who they came to see. Hasley & Co. were there to perform and entertain, and did so with equal parts modern swag, and classic rock ‘n’ roll imperiousness by which I couldn’t help but be impressed. Their material sounded bombastic and massive, which wasn’t fair. They made it seem natural, effortless and looked the part while doing so. They set the bar high by playing above their position in the set order, and above the portion of the audience who were absent in flesh or mind. Those who were attentive received Hasley warmly when she thanked the audience for enduring their set while waiting for Metric, and more so Imagine Dragons. They ended their set with their single “Hurricane” and exited the stage with minimal fanfare, doing a disservice to their performance. This was the beginning of a trend I’d not foreseen. That said, if Hasley is a problem, it’s a good problem to have.

Metric took the stage with a rush of energy and the polish of a band that’s been playing to crowds in the tens of thousands for years, which they have. Opening with “Stadium Love” didn’t hurt that cause. If you’re a fan of listening to the radio in St. Louis, you might not have seen that commanding vitality coming, unless you’ve tuned into WLCA 89.9 out of Lewis & Clark Community College or KDHX 88.1. I got the impression that wasn’t the case with a large portion of the audience, but that didn’t matter.  Emily Haines, Metric’s vocalist, who also plays synthesizer and guitar, is irrepressible on stage, and her boundless energy was on full display. In contrast James Shaw (guitar) and Josh Winstead (Bass) played it cool, rock star straight men, grooving and strutting as if they owned the world. Meanwhile Haines was ceaseless in engaging the crowd, which thrilled the Metric fans on hand. Their set was heavy on material from Synthetica & Fantasies and felt tailor made for lifting spirits and priming the audience for celebration, but not without a bit nuance and artifice. I for one, noticed an arch when juxtaposing the choruses of “Gold Guns Girls” just past midway in the set, and set closer “The Shade”. The first single from their new album, “Cascades,” took on a completely different feel live, still evoking Depeche Mode, and sounding gargantuan, but less constricted. By the time they finished their set with “Breathing Underwater” and the aforementioned “The Shade,” Haines had done her best to inspire crowd participation and had shown magnanimous grace and humor upon witnessing the results. It was crystal clear that you had a case of a band of consummate professionals giving their all to a disappointingly detached crowd, at least as far as being engaged with the songs themselves was concerned. But that didn’t stop the four members of Metric from putting on a stadium sized show, with winks and smiles throughout.

When the time came for Imagine Dragons to take the stage, the full measure of their elevation into the position of one of the most popular touring bands in recent years became clear to me. The whole of the massive set came alive and was used to build anticipation in the now full arena. It was in this same arena that I’d seen U2 not long after September 11, marking one of many very memorable concert experiences there, and one of two concerts featuring the “Biggest Band In The World” at the particular time of said show. This felt like the equivalent of that U2 show in many ways. Maybe for many of the younger fans on hand it was?  For me it felt like a relative, a descendant, baring so many of the signature features, but definitely not the one I’d grown up with. 

I came into that U2 concert having been a fan since the mid ‘90s, who was put off by the ubiquity of Joshua Tree and Rattle & Hum and won back over by being exposed to War. Imagine Dragons is on their 2nd album, their biggest hits being on their debut. All That You Can’t Leave Behind was U2’s 10th. My mind was struggling to perceive just how these two bands could arrive at the same point on such different timelines in their careers. “Radioactive” was a huge hit song, one I could lean on across cultural boundaries and musical segregation to share with people, and expect recognition and approval, and this was prior to Kendrick Lamar dropping a few bars on it at the Grammies. Could I do that with a U2 song?  Possibly be “One” thanks to the Mary J. Blige duet & cover versions. Outside of that U2 is a rock band that drifted towards pop but maintained a rock oriented audience. Imagine Dragons has become something else.

Imagine Dragon’s two biggest hits could be from two completely different bands. The aforementioned “Radioactive” is a modern genre-blind fusion of the edgier industrial end of the pop spectrum that has crystallized with dub-step facets. “It’s Time” is equal parts folk and pub sing-along that was all the rage back at the time of its recording. That one band could find pots of gold at these disparate ends of the rainbow was befuddling to me a few years ago, and a signifier of certain doom, but that was before Mi Vida La Vida or Death and All His Friends. It just so happens that I was able to catch the authors of that career capstone, Coldplay, when they toured in support of it, and without a doubt, again, sans the depth in discography found a comparable experience to this show, a more relevant one in many ways thanks to the crossover appeal Coldplay attained with that album, and displayed in their material on that release, which spanned many a genre barrier to great results, musically and commercially, as far as pop rock is concerned. Imagine Dragons manifest a similar level of presence in their performance as Chris Martin & Co, and received equal adoration from the audience. Their ascendancy was not lost on them, and frontman Dan Reynolds, who was in great voice all night, went out of his way to make sure the fans were fully aware of how grateful and humbled they were to be playing at this level at this stage of their careers. 

In an era when the sheer volume of music produced is enough to render the average fan dumbstruck when asked to identify the title of a non-single from an album by a band they like, the crowd again and again stood rapt and sang along with Reynolds, song after song. Each time Wayne Sermon took a guitar solo in the front of the stage or on his platform stage right, or opened a song with a riff, the crowd roared. They did the same when Daniel Platzman took and extended drum solo or later when Reynolds brought him to the forefront of the stage for an ovation. While Ben McKee’s bass drove so many of the songs, along with some synth base, and occasional percussion, he spent the majority of the show focused on grooving on his side of the stage, only moving to his platform for a few moments as the band opened up as a whole to jam later into the show, displaying their explosive chemistry as pure musicians. Touring multi-instrumentalist Will Wells was also indispensable as he switched from keys to guitars of varying sorts, and background vocals throughout the night, fleshing out the songs and rocking to the rhythm with a broad smile. Reynolds made sure to “single” him out specifically in one of many candid and humorous moments to emerge from his banter with the audience and bandmates, showing his lucid presence in the moment. All this is to say, Imagine Dragons have connected with their audience, and to their fans, Night Visions is their Joshua Tree, it is their A Rush of Blood to the Head. This tour is certain to connect their more casual fans to Smoke + Mirrors thanks to their live shows. They are owning this moment as a band and if they can harness this synergy and pair it with the craft and inspiration that allowed them to break the mold out of the gate, they are poised to do great things and sustain their success without becoming echoes of themselves or some past act. Here’s to hoping. | Willie Smith

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