Going into Imagine Dragons’ show at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee, on Wednesday night, I honestly wasn’t too excited.
I’ve never really got into the band’s material. Their bombastic hooks that practically beg for sing-alongs and middle-of-the-road lyrics just aren’t what I look for in a band.
While they aren’t for me, they are for a lot of people, and more than 15,000 of their fans made their way to downtown Nashville for the band’s third stop in Music City in two years. (They played the Woods at Fontenal in July 2013 and Bridgestone Arena in February 2014.)
I was taken aback at how many people the Las Vegas four-piece drew to their latest show, mostly due to the lack of buzz around them this year.
Aside from their latest release Smoke + Mirrors’ impressive first week sales numbers, I haven’t seen the record’s material gain much traction. There hasn’t been anything overwhelmingly positive about the album as a whole, either, so this wasn’t a case of critical acclaim with under-performing singles, e.g. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.
But what surprised me even more wasn’t how many fans showed up to the gig, but how enamored the audience was with the group. Despite the group only having three big hits (“Radioactive,” “Demons” and “It’s Time”), their fans knew just about all their material. Tracks like “I Bet My Life,” “Shots” and “On Top of the World” resonated just as much as their aforementioned multi-platinum hits that were inescapable in 2013.
While artists like Jack White and Arcade Fire prove that you don’t have to have a catalog of hits to play an arena, the case of Imagine Dragons just feels different to me. Those two aforementioned acts that also have recently played Bridgestone Arena aren’t radio bands; their popularity is based on the strength of their albums and full catalog. But Imagine Dragons is a radio band, and when a radio band isn’t staying on the charts, their popularity dwindles. Just look at Neon Trees, who just announced that they’ve downsized their next Nashville show venue from Cannery Ballroom to Mercy Lounge.
Although I may not have understood why the band was in an arena originally, it soon made a lot more sense to me once their set began. Imagine Dragons puts on a pretty entertaining show. The group sounds tight and is animated on stage, especially frontman Dan Reynolds, who worked a 5×5 platform at the end of the catwalk like a champ. Their sound is diverse and undeniably catchy. Their bombastic hooks are akin to Mumford and Sons and other pop-folk groups, and they resonate well in an arena. Backed by a pretty insane light/laser setup, the group played through songs like “It’s Time,” the ballad “Thief” and the southern stomper “I’m So Sorry” with ease, making them much more enjoyable live than through earbuds or car speakers.
Other set highlights included the heavy version of the Smoke + Mirrors cut “Friction,” which—I kid you not—made me feel like I was at nu metal show, and, on the other end of the spectrum, their stripped down cover of Alphaville’s “Forever Young,” which lead to a sea of phone lights filling the arena.
Out of the entire 18-song set, the one track that really grabbed me the most was their biggest hit to-date, “Radioactive.” This track is the closest thing mainstream rock has had to an arena anthem since Kings of Leon’s Only By the Night material and it truly deserves to be heard in an arena setting. Each of the band’s five members got behind a drum or synthesizer and just jammed out the song’s pounding instrumentation while Reynolds led the crowd in singing the chorus. While chanting hooks can be annoying and forced at times, this one works, and works well.
Even though I was skeptical going in, I walked away entertained. There were lasers, loads of crowd-wide sing-alongs and tons of energy between Imagine Dragons and their fans. What more could you want?
For our full archive of shows at Bridgestone Arena, click here.
Follow John Connor Coulston on Twitter at @JCCoulston.
Follow Andre Rowlett on Instagram at @arowgant.