I wasn’t expecting to go to the Imagine Dragons show at Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom on Thursday, March 14. In the ‘bridesmaid, never a bride’ sense, I was someone else’s back-up. Fortunately for me (and I hope all is well with my colleague), the stars aligned and I got to experience a pretty special show.
Before we get to Imagine Dragons, Nico Vega, a 5-piece from California, got the show started. The floor was about ¾ full by the time Nico Vega started and when the singer and guitarist walked onstage, there were a number of enthusiastic “woooos” from the crowd. The song they performed to just acoustic guitar and vocals was called “Bang Bang”. For the second song, a drummer and bassist join the two already on stage. It was a vaguely ska-sounding rock song featuring a lot of screeches, yeahs, etc. but not a lot of words that I could understand sufficiently enough to do a lyric search OR, the lyrics I was able to discern didn’t yield any results either. For this song and most of the other ones, fail.
The singer has a great set of pipes, similar to Bjork at times and can also sing with a Grace Slick-like edge, but rather poor diction. For the next piece the singer did some on-the-spot vocal to create vocal layers for a song about her childhood. It started out rather quiet and built to full-on rock. The singer uses stage levels quite a bit – there were three oil drums lined along the front of the stage (stage left, centre, stage right) that she likes to climb onto quite a bit (and the drums in back). In painted-on leather-looking pants, that can’t have been easy. She has a big voice and as a band they have a really big sound. She can do the vocal gymnastics, she has great energy and presence, and she sometimes even functions as a second drummer wearing what looks like a tenor drum and playing it with mallets. “Coal Miner’s Song” (Yay! I found a song title!) started a capella and reminded me of the Irish ballad “She Walked Through the Fair”. In the meantime, the other three members have taken up position at each of the oil drums with drum sticks and when they start she accompanies them on the tenor drum. At this point, it’s only percussion and it sounds like pure energy before the musicians go back to their regular instruments to finish the song.
I did like this band, quite a bit actually – they really showcased themselves with the 9 songs they chose to fill their 45-minute slot; I just wish I’d actually been able to understand what was being sung.
Imagine Dragons – what can I say? They impressed me. The 5-6’ vertical drum alone made me curious. There’s applause from the get-go and the excitement builds palpably before this touring 5-piece band based in Las Vegas go on stage. You can tell the difference, because that’s when the screams erupt. Imagine Dragons begin in half-darkness with 3 sets of drums against a chord-heavy synth track. Then, the electricity gets turned on and the audience participation for the first song “Round and Round” is just buoyant. A guitar solo begins “Amsterdam” and the audience participation again is a fully engaged one. Singer Dan Reynolds reciprocates – he looks at his audience, he’s not one to stare into a neutral point in the middle of the crowd – he does look like he’s trying to make eye contact with as many people as he can. Vocally, I can detect a little “Brandon Flowers School of Vocals” – not that there’s anything wrong with that. “Tiptoe” is full of echoes and sing-alongs for the audience who take advantage of every opportunity to show their appreciation. A genuinely floored Reynolds asks “How do you people even know about us?” of the crowd. His only answer is yet another round of deafening applause.
Like the Cincinatti band Walk the Moon, it looks as though this frontman may also have started his career as a drummer and now that he’s singing really likes to keep a hand in the percussion department. “Hear Me” was the next song and it sounds a bit Killers-ish in its pop-rock anthem qualities and overall vibe. At this point, I’m sold on this band. A CD of theirs must be bought. End of. They are capital G, double O, capital D GOOD! They remember when they played in Vancouver the last time. Reynolds describes it as having played across the street and looking at the Commodore and wishing they could some day play there. He thanks the fans, this show sold out very quickly, and acknowledges that everyone in the room really wanted to be there.
“Cha-Ching” starts off with a falsetto vocal and is definitely a rhythm-based song with 3 sets of drums in use in addition to bass guitar. I really enjoy that they are multi-instrumentalists. For “Rocks” I like the double percussion sound. The drums are the focus of the bridge and the audience is encouraged to clap along (try and stop them). For “Radioactive” the drums around Reynolds have been rearranged to surround him: a set of multiple drums (smaller than a tenor drum but not a bongos either) behind, the massive 5-6 footer to his left, a smaller 3’ (ish) vertical drum to his right and a different kind of drum in front. The band is fully immersed in the song as is the audience. They sing along from start to finish, they get the chorus solo, but they are with this band 100%. I have rarely felt like I want a video recording of any song as it was performed live, but if I had to choose one, this one would definitely be at or near the top. Reynolds pretty much killed one of his mallets when the felt wrapping started to come undone. During the song, Reynolds and bassist Ben McKee play both sides of the massive 6-footer. Guitarist Wayne Sermon takes the 3-footer beside Reynolds while drummer Dan Platzman is on the multi-set behind Reynolds until it’s time for him to jump back behind his kit and Reynolds takes over on them. I lost track of keyboardist Ryan Walker during this one. This song alone almost brought the house down. It was most definitely a WOW experience.
After a high like that, it was time to bring things down a notch or two. Reynolds and Sermon stay onstage with a spotlight on Sermon and the other three leave for the next song, “Lay Me Down”. It’s a gorgeous song and it would’ve been so much better had the majority of the people in the balcony behind me where I was sitting weren’t so busy being rude and talking throughout the entire song. Hello? Just because you can now hear yourself talk doesn’t mean you should. The other band members return for “Bleeding Out” and it’s bassist McKee’s turn for a spotlight. Tool would be proud; he puts the guitar back into bass guitar. The spotlight then switches to Sermon and as the song continues the audience gets to finish choruses. “Demons” is next and on the whole I thought it was a bit short, but certainly not on crowd participation. As far as ballads go, it’s a pretty intense one lyrically and the melodic repetition puts the emphasis squarely on those lyrics. Brief conversation with the audience: this is YOUR night, no one’s judging you here. A license to let loose and have fun.
For “Underdog” it’s not just back to double percussion but also for Nico Vega to be invited back on stage and they grab every drum and mallet/drumstick they can find. Apparently it’s the first time they’d done that – they should keep it up as the tour continues because it worked. Nico Vega leaves a bit awkwardly and then Reynolds leaves for a brief spell. It’s the other Dan’s turn in the literal spotlight for a drum solo with the other band members supporting. Reynolds returns again for “On Top of the World”, a bit of a jumper for him and the audience. It’s impressive to the band as well because after the song ends Platzman takes a photo of the super-enthusiastic crowd. “It’s Time” is predictably a full-on audience crowd pleaser. They take over for the chorus and the band admits to being overwhelmed. There’s talk of beginning a love affair with Vancouver and the intent to come back again soon – the audience is loudly in support of this idea (and I really hope it comes to pass). At just after 11 the band leave and are persuaded back for an encore (they’re done by quarter after 11). The song is “Nothing Left to Say” and it aptly finishes with a nice big juicy instrumental part.
There is just so much love in this room, it’s really quite remarkable. Reynolds made an odd comment about it ‘sucking for them in the US right now’ and he appreciated how people parted with their money to be there tonight (the couple I sat with had bought their tickets through a third-party reseller and cost them $150 total – a price tag they thought was worth every penny). I can’t imagine why things would be sucky – they’re sooo gooood! I went into that show mildly curious about what their other songs sounded like (knowing only “It’s Time”, “Demons”, and “Radioactive”) and before the show was halfway over I wanted to be in the front row for the next one.
Again, thanks to my colleague for affording me the opportunity of being here. This show was exceptional!
Round and Round
Lay Me Down
On Top of the World
Nothing Left to Say
Photos © Jamie Taylor