In a musical world where genuine artistry routinely fights a savage battle with artifice and pop conventions, Imagine Dragons stirs the pot to keep industry players guessing and audiences entertained. When the lads from the Las Vegas band (by way of Provo, Utah) came to Anaheim's Honda Center, they brought with them Halsey and Metric as their opening acts, and the entire show -- all three acts included -- formed a sort of microcosm of the pop music world, with each act progressively demonstrating the evolution of the synthesis of pop and indie rock.
After her start as an Internet sensation, Halsey signed with Astralwerks and released her debut EP Room 93 last October. While she has a good voice, her posturing onstage while she ran through her seven similar sounding songs didn't do much for her street credibility and showed that she had about as much edginess as a snow globe (despite her blue hair). Still, for a 20 year old, who got this far on her own, she deserves some naches, and her song "New Americana" was a memorable number.
The Canadian-born, synth pop outfit Metric upped the ante for gritty appeal, and they resonate with this writer for being the ones who penned the song "Black Sheep," which was performed by Envy Adams (Brie Larson) in the film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Their nine song set included this song as well as a few other catchy numbers, but there is a very evident struggle that they face in going the distance -- their singer, Emily Haines, preached that they have been doing what they love for 15 years and that it's not always easy, but it is rewarding.
Finally, Imagine Dragons showed the packed Anaheim arena their attempt at staying on top of the game after essentially having a career built around three hits -- one of which was the ambitiously structured and insanely successful single "Radioactive," which has the distinction of being the all time longest running entry on Billboard's Hot 100. This stop on the tour in support of their sophomore album, Smoke + Mirrors, demonstrated a nice balance between, well, using smoke and mirrors to put on a show and good old fashioned humble indie rock.
During their hour and a half set, the boys alternated between showcasing their eclectic songs and their goofy frat boys from next door banter. When the white curtain, which encompassed the stage (and upon which their silhouettes were cast), dropped, the band ripped into "Shots," the EDM-infused first track from their new album. From that moment until they concluded with "Radioactive," and their encore of "The Fall," which is the final track on their new album, they more or less held the stadium captive with their hits, hard-hitting anthems, and a few tender moments in between.
Half of the charm of their show was during those in between moments, when singer / songwriter Dan Reynolds would clown around with his bandmates, invite the audience to join him in some yogic stretching, acknowledge his humble roots, or jump off the stage and walk through the stadium while singing. Apart from that, the stage show consisted of a series of panels and light beams which showed video and lasers, and which shifted to redesign the parameters of the stage throughout the evening. Side screens provided the essential close-up views of the band members for those with distant seats; however the video feed seemed choppy, but then again this may have been an intentional effect as the video was sometimes modified with effects.
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The music that Imagine Dragons produces contains a wealth of inspirations and demonstrates just as much dedication to art as it does to a desire to forge inescapable, powerhouse, pop hooks. They remain an anomaly in a musical world that consists of people who can discern genuine rocking music as well as morons who spend more time taking selfies and videotaping the video screen than enjoying the performance -- both of which are attracted to their shows. Their devotion to keeping it real is as poignant as it is necessary when they have to compete with the groundbreaking success of their early works, but they certainly put on a great show while they fight the good fight.