Sporting the single most impressive percussion display ever seen on the USF Sun Dome’s stage, including a 6-foot-tall bass drum, Imagine Dragons began their set sounding like Icelandic art rockers Sigur Ros (coming to Tampa next month) for all of two minutes. Then they abruptly switched gears and handed the heavily college-aged audience its trademark heavily-effected guitar and crescendo assault with the opening refrain of “Round and Round.”
Having only one album to their credit and heavily influenced by the usual suspects of U2, Coldplay, fellow Vegas Mormon rockers The Killers, with a little Creed for good measure, there was little surprise in Imagine Dragons’ set list apart from waiting until more than halfway in to bring out any of their big hits from the multi-platinum “Night Visions.”
Hoodie-wearing lead singer Dan Reynolds had an earnest and humble presence. He used the ample drums as his playthings and props during much of the set, enhancing the alternative pop rock of their album with a muscular undercurrent throughout the show, a welcome departure from the overly produced pop of today’s popular music.
The comfortably full arena had its hands raised much of the night in the church of uplifting and driving rock and roll. The show was punctuated by the elevation of those never-ending crescendos that guitarist Wayne Sermon served up on “Amsterdam” and “Hear Me,” proving once more that U2’s The Edge is the most influential guitarist of the past quarter-century.
Reynolds did something unusual before the band’s best song and second biggest hit, “It’s Time.” He got vulnerable, telling the assembly about the hard week he is having and how these shows are the most redeeming thing in his life right now. It was a powerful sentiment to launch into such a formidable anthem, sung mostly by the audience.
As the night moved forward toward the inevitable conclusion of the set with the monster smash “Radioactive,” the band did not venture from the script given to all young bands hoping to become the next big thing. From the acoustic mini-set “30 Lives” to the bass-heavy hit “Demons” and the always popular but overdone confetti and beach balls trope during “On Top of the World,” the Dragons hit all the assigned marks.
I was happy to hear the band cover underrated indie band Cold War Kids’ “Hang Me Up to Dry,” but the crowd instead was ready to feel feelings on the postmodern anthem “Radioactive.” And it was EPIC. Pushing the crowd into a state of euphoria as they sang lyrics that make no sense but seem important, Imagine Dragons gave the audience a perfect song for this generation: intense, vital sounding, and an empty palette on which all of us can put our own meaning.
First opener Paper Route was a pleasant distraction for the two-thirds of the audience finding their seats before California-based band The Neighbourhood began their set with recent hit “Sweater Weather.” If this were the ‘90s, their soulful and reggae-influenced alternapop would make them the next big thing. However, in today’s fragmented music scene, they will never be huge unless they smooth their edges to become the next Maroon 5, which would be a shame because they are something special.