True confession, I’m not a huge fan of Imagine Dragons’ music. I find a good portion of their catalog a little too alt-rock radio ready to be truly interesting. Having said that, two things were clear early into the band’s set at the Frank Erwin Center on Thursday night. First, their songs, many of which are sweeping anthemic numbers about life and love, truly resonate with their fans. Though it looked like there was a scattering of empty seats, the Erwin Center reports the band performed to a sold out crowd split evenly between twenty-somethings and the 18-and-under set (many of the latter came with parents in tow). When they took the stage the energy in the room raised to a fever pitch. When they dropped the love on the rocks song “It’s Time” two tracks in the arena reverberated with the entire crowd belting the chorus “Now don't you understand/That I'm never changing who I am.”
Second, these are no three-chord rockers. They took the stage to a set strewn with an impressive array of percussion. The back line included a huge drum kit, stand up toms and spare cymbals, congas and a massive bass drum with a head that was probably 5 foot in diameter. The front line included floor toms up front and on each of the side risers and another large bass drum. Throughout the performance all the musicians displayed incredible versatility. The keyboardist played guitar, the guitarist played drums, at one point the bass player tapped out chords on a keyboard in between bass licks. Singer Dan Reynolds punctuated his verses with instrumental sections beating on the floor toms. The band goes all out to give their fans a good show.
They are also caught up in kind of a magical moment of transition. In the past two years their career has skyrocketed. They seem genuinely amazed to be an arena act.
“I spent yesterday walking the city here,” Reynolds said, recounting how his band first played South By Southwest four years ago, when the band was only a year old. They played 15 shows that year, some of them acoustic sets on tiny stages.
“This city’s been so kind to us,” Reynolds said, reminding the crowd the band will return to SXSW on March 11 to play the iTunes music festival. It will be their third appearance at the festival.
“It’s been an incredible road and you’ve been a huge part of it, Austin,” he said
But if playing stadiums is still a novelty to the band they have no trouble filling the space. They played a solid set of high energy arena rock, covering most of the songs on their 2013 release “Night Visions” and also logging an excellent cover of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” filled with an appropriate barrage of no-holds barred percussion.
They closed the show with spectacular renditions of two of their biggest hits. For “On Top of the World” Reynolds hopped off the stage and circled the floor of the arena interacting directly with ecstatic fans. As he returned to the stage massive balloons full of confetti floated out over the crowd, scattering clouds of colored paper as each one burst. The climatic final number of course was “Radioactive” the song that won the band a Grammy for Best Rock Performance a month ago and made Billboard chart history this week, spending a record 77 weeks on the publication’s top 100. The live version included a massive breakdown that found five of the six men on stage working the percussion into a thunderous uproar of epic proportions. When the band left the stage the crowd cheered riotously until they returned to put in an equally impressive extended jam of “Nothing Left To Say/Rocks.”
Beyond the upcoming SXSW gig the band will be back Reynolds promised. “As long as you’ll have us we’ll be here. We love you, Austin,” he said.
NOTE: This blog has been updated to note that the Erwin Center reports last night's show was sold out.