Pop-rockers Imagine Dragons thrill their target demographic at Sun
About halfway through Imagine Dragons' two-hour sold-out concert Saturday in the Mohegan Sun Arena, as the platinum-spangled Las Vegas quartet had just performed the hit "Demons" to fervent response, I turned to the man sitting next to me and said, "That's a pretty good song, but it's no 'Astronomy.'"
My seatmate, whom I'd never met until just before the show, laughed good-naturedly. "I just wish I'd written 'Demons,'" he said.
The guy was Joe Bouchard, bassist/vocalist/composer for 10 Blue Öyster Cult albums through what I call the immortal years (albums one-through-"Club Ninja"), and, along with many fine tunes, he DID co-write "Astronomy." It's the stunning closer on BÖC's "Secret Treaties" — a once-in-a-career rock masterpiece I once described in these pages as "The 'Sgt. Pepper's' of heavy metal." And don't be modest, Joe. "Astronomy" is better than anything Imagine Dragons will ever do — or so it seems to me.
The fact that I by chance was sitting next to Bouchard, that he was at an Imagine Dragons performance to begin with — and that I was somehow able to not drive the poor fellow to catatonia via a machine-gun barrage of BÖC questions and "fave moments" — was just one of those lunatic conflations of unlikely possibilities that happen occasionally.
The point is to talk about the Dragons as they vibrantly blew through the area on their hyper-successful "Evolve" tour. But Bouchard's presence reminds me: music is an intensely personal thing oft-associated in indelible fashion with impressionable youth, and I doubt if many of the 10,000 Imagine Dragons zealots in the arena know or care about Blue Öyster Cult. Sad? Maybe, but Bouchard and I would be the first to tell you that time goes by and that's the nature of music and our emotional investment in it.
Over the course of three albums, Imagine Dragons' brand of polished and percussive pop-rock have resonated in huge fashion. Based on what I could see of the crowd, this was possibly the first major concert a lot of them had seen, and it will thus be tattooed as a truly magical evening forever. For other long-time fans in attendance, songs such as "I Don't Know Why," "Gold," "Whatever it Takes," "Thunder," "I Bet My Life," "Believer," Demons" and the finale "Radioactive" — all performed with energy and passion Saturday — are soundtrack songs in that very special coming-of-age fashion. It was exciting to witness.
It's here, though, that the "You're too old to get it" versus "I might be old but I've seen 50 years of rock history" arguments come into play. I enjoyed the show, but there's very little about Imagine Dragons that makes me want to hear more.
As with any modern arena act, they present a captivating visual spectacle. Lightshow sorcery, fog and explosions, confetti, more giant balloons than Pennywise could use in a lifetime, three vertical video screens depicting an ongoing montage of images and between-song voice-over serving the "big picture" philosophy of the "Evolve" album, and an extended runway into the crowd on which frontman Dan Reynolds capered and exhorted in a fashion that shimmered with sincerity and kindness. If those are two words that don't immediately spring to mind when describing rock vocalists, well, you don't know the Dragons. Reynolds' bouts with depression and anxiety are fairly well known, and his focus on positive energy and good deeds are part of the band's charisma.
These elements are of course reflected in glossy tunes with sing-along, sky-ascending choruses, structures of which rely heavily on synth-pop flourishes and the sort of louder-than-God bottom-end associated with Queen's "We Will Rock You." At times, with all four members playing percussion, the hypnotic effect is like the Blue Man Group if they ran out of paint. There was also the B-stage construct, where the Dragons made their way to the rear of the hall to a small platform, playing a three-song acoustic set to the back of the hall. Opening with a nice version of Tom Petty's "Won't Back Down" and including excellent renditions of "Shots" and "Amsterdam," they then returned to the main stage for the five-song sprint to the finish.
Reynolds was in great voice throughout (and utilized a misplaced microphone faux pas to playfully assure us that at least we knew he was "really singing"), and guitarist Wayne Sermon, bassist Bryan McKee, drummer Daniel Platzman and touring multi-instrumentalist Elliot Schwartzman played superbly and with buoyant joy. The problem for me is that very few tunes in the repertoire are particularly distinctive, even though it's a very good live band.
But maybe that's not a problem. Maybe that's just how life rolls. It was an enjoyable night and, if I sometimes look wistfully to the past and wonder why no one writes songs like "Astronomy" anymore, so, too, will Imagine Dragons fans go forward, perhaps not yet aware that the uplifting chants of "Radioactive" and the memories of a November concert in 2018 will always be tucked safely away in their minds, heart and ears.