Imagine Dragons Are in Their Element at Toyota Center

Imagine Dragons, Metric
Toyota Center
July 16, 2015

Fans of Halsey were presumably pretty bummed out when she didn't take the stage to open for Metric and Imagine Dragons at Toyota Center Thursday night. Knocked down for the count thanks to some nasty surgeries — her wisdom teeth were extracted, for starters — she was huddled backstage, blanket over her head, and shuffling like an old woman. But Halsey can rest at ease, because her fans were well taken care of, courtesy of the night's other two bands.

First up was Metric, a Canadian-bred rock band led by the badass female front woman Emily Haines. Metric has recently been steamrolling into mainstream popularity, and it's easy to see why. Haines is a whirlwind of energy, bouncing and chatting in between her wicked vocals, and her male bandmates are the perfect accoutrement. They're stoic and poised, and seemingly content to let her have center stage.

And center stage is where she belongs. She's a commanding force, ripping her vocals to shreds during Metric's short set. Songs like "Stadium Love," where Haines essentially shouts those very words into the mike repeatedly, don't ever sound forced or put-on, and she excels at nearly every track. There were some standouts — "Breathing Underwater" needs to be on every playlist ever. I could have watched Metric all night. 

But ultimately, the night belonged to Imagine Dragons, whose popularity has grown exponentially over the past few years. I was a bit nervous going into the show — I've seen these guys transition from one venue to the next very rapidly, and while their bass-heavy, pop-laden tracks fit a venue like House of Blues, Toyota Center seemed like a huge feat. Would those intimate drum circles translate? It seemed somewhat impossible to overcome.

But you know what? It wasn't bad at all. The show nearly filled the arena — an amazing feat for a band only two albums into their career — and while I'd prefer to hear those mu'fuckin' bass drums in a much smaller venue again, you can't fault these guys for movin' on up. Opening with "Shots," an upbeat song off their latest album, Smoke + Mirrors, the band was immediately in their element. But they've always kinda been that way.

This is my third time reviewing the band, after shows at House of Blues and then Cynthia Woods. From their early days on in, the Dragons have had nary a misstep. They're energetic, talented and self-effacing; front man Dan Reynolds's voice cracked as he talked to the crowd about his struggles with depression, the inspiration behind new song "Hopeless Opus." He made sure to tell us that while he's not ashamed to cry, he was not crying right that very minute. If there's an "up" from Toyota Center, these guys will probably get there. 

Say what you want about the band — yes, they're radio-friendly, and yes, "Radioactive" became the definition of mainstream alt-rock — but this band is filled with some of the most skilled musicians around right now. It's not just Reynolds, whose perfect vocals and onstage persona are impossible to dismiss, but also his many longtime bandmates who make this collab as great as it is, too.

Take, for example, celloist/bassist/uke-ist (is that a word?)/guitarist/whatever-other-instrument-you-can-throw-in-there-ist Wayne Sermon. Hidden behind a blanket of long hair, he's the kind of guy we all hung out with in high school, who somehow managed to pull a badass GPA despite spending his time smoking pot and drumming on the desk. He remains that way onstage today. Sermon is the quintessential musician, jumping from one instrument to the next without flinching, absorbed in the music, playing little to the crowd.

He's tempered by the energy of bassist Ben McKee and Animal-like drummer Daniel Platzman. Reynolds, though, has always been a ball of energy, bouncing from the front of the stage to front of Platzman's drum kit with nary a blink of an eye. But he's upped that ante from the last time I saw him, and he seems to have come into his own as a proper rockstar. He's morphed from an endearing, destructive labrador puppy into a true artist — rolling and writhing on the stage, and at times eschewing those sweet, airy vocals for a more growling, biting tone — excelling at such a transition on songs like "I'm So Sorry," another track from Smoke + Mirrors.

And where Reynolds once visibly showed the emotions and nerves that come with the band's rapid success, he now seems to revel in it. Gone are the days of the man whose hands slightly shake as he takes in the massive crowd, the Reynolds we saw at Cynthia Woods just a couple of years ago. He's extremely comfortable on that stage now, transitioning from the band's poppier tracks to their newer, heavier stuff.

They pulled tracks from both their massive debut album and Smoke + Mirrors, jumping from "Shots" into "Trouble" and "It's Time," followed by a pretty darn rad cover of Alphaville's "Forever Young," an '80s song that not many of their newer, younger fans seemed to recognize. (There were a lot of teenagers in the crowd.) It was nice to see that the Dragons aren't content to rely on the commercial success of songs like "Radioactive" to get them through. Although they did play it, and not in the encore.

But they could have. That drum circle the band is known for during the live version of that song — the one you may have seen Kendrick Lamar help them with during the VMAs a few years ago — was there, and was still as fantastic as ever. Well, almost as fantastic. There's no comparison watching them pull such a thing off in a venue as intimate as HOB, so it didn't quite translate as well Thursday, but how could it? It's a million times the size. (Scientific facts, y'all.)

Will a Dragons show at Toyota Center ever feel as exciting and unique as the ones earlier on in their careers? No, and you know what? That's okay. It doesn't negate their talent or their showmanship; these guys — as always — are working with what they're given. As they proved last night, if they're given the Toyota Center, work it they will. 

Personal Bias: Like I said, third time. I feel like a mama hen. Or a mama dragon? Is that more fitting?

The Crowd: Holy day care, were there a lot of children in this crowd. It's a big change from the dirty kids at HOB a few years ago. Y'all know who you are. Those were the days, eh?

Overheard In the Crowd: "Why is that hat 35 bucks? ’Cause it says NIKE on it? I wouldn't pay $5 for that!" — A disgruntled mom who was not stoked with the price of a beanie at the merch table. I don't think it said Nike. Also, it wasn't a hat.

Random Notebook Dump: I don't know where these guys could possibly transition to that's BIGGER than Toyota, but I promise you, they will.

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