Words by Grace Hood-Edwards
Photography by Chony Musson
“Peace, love, and equality to all.”
This is the mantra that was repeated by Dan Reynolds throughout Imagine Dragons’ Auckland concert.
The audience had already been warmed up by the opening act from Australian band The Temper Trap, whose presence would have made an outing worth it all on their own. Lead singer Dougy Mandagi possesses powerful and hollowing lead vocals, with the capability to hit some piercing Freddie Mercury high notes. With the confusing decision to have the arena all seated – even the floor – the set felt strangely intimate, with Mandagi even admitting he had “just washed (his) hair.” It was a smooth opening, and felt like going for a long drive.
Imagine Dragons’ entrance was like getting on a rollercoaster.
The opening was big – quite literally with a creation-of-the-universe video playing on towering screens – an appropriate nod to their aptly named Evolve World Tour. The bang came just behind it, with a one-two punch of I Don’t Know Why and Believer, punctuated with a multitude of confetti cannons. Most bands leave the cannons to the end, but Imagine Dragons set their explosive tone from the beginning. By the end, the floor was so covered in confetti people were gathering it up and playfully throwing it at one another in armfuls.
Dan Reynolds, lead singer and frontman, addressed the crowd promising they were bringing everything they had “every last little inkling of stamina, heart, soul, mind, emotion”, and invited the audience to leave everything at the door and “be free.” While some of this address could have been walked off as corny, Reynolds’ earnestness didn’t allow for it. He continued after It’s Time to rightfully call out a reviewer who had criticised his ‘backtrack’ on leaving politics at the door in discussing shootings in America stating “That is not politics. We’re losing our youth in America to gun violence. That’s not politics – that’s human decency.” He was met with great applause from the audience, who lit up the stadium during an emotional and resonant cover of Forever Young. The Auckland show was three days after the Santa Fe school shooting in the US, and it was a solemn and beautiful tribute to the victims of the mass shooting.
This wasn’t the only crowd-stopping moment led by Reynolds, as he opened up to the audience about his own struggle with depression and anxiety. In a display of great humanity and vulnerability on the stage, he plainly pled with members of the audience to seek help and see a therapist – like he did – if they need to. With much of the band’s music touching on themes of darkness and rising up out of said darkness, it is undoubted that many in that audience were touched by his words and his following moving rendition of Demons.
It was appropriate that their stage set-up contained a catwalk as Dan Reynolds absolutely rocked it, running and skipping and falling to his knees prostrate, as dissonant audio from the video on the screens called out, “How are we going to fix this?” The answer came seconds later with the response, “Remember…get back on your feet” – something that Reynolds showed through action with his insane physicality – high knee kicks included.
While those on the floor was on their feet from the beginning, a lot of people in the stands felt hesitant to block the view of their fellow attendees. A rousing delivery of On Top of the World, complete with white balloons dropping from the ceiling changed that, with the entire arena surging to their feet. It felt like a party, and it was a charming moment to see people punting those balloons back and forth across the audience with glee.
Footage of the crowd was shown on the screen accompanied by a dreamlike synth interlude that disguised the bands move to the B-stage at the back of the crowd, where they broke it down into a more acoustic set. They led with the pared down and emotional Next To Me that set the audience swaying. I was overwhelmingly pleased to hear the first verse of one of my all-time favourites Warriors, even if it was only an acoustic version. I was so excited I didn’t at first realise when they segued into Sucker for Pain. My brief moment of friend-gripping delight aside, I do hope to one day get the chance to hear – in full – the rest of their brilliant soundtrack singles live. (As a note: Ready Aim Fire, Monster, Lost Cause.)
All eyes were on Reynolds as he jumped down off of the B-stage and ran through the audience in a very folksy version of I Bet My Life. Many fans’ lives were made at that moment as he went around the barrier touching hands, with one woman even kissing him on the head – eliciting laughs from the crowd and Reynolds himself, who giggled through the next phrase.
The concert closed with two of their headbanging hits Thunder and the epic Radioactive. With the entire arena roaring, Imagine Dragons held nothing back, leaving everything on that stage. Not afraid to display their wide array of talents, each band member had their own star-moment, from Wayne Sermon’s classic shredding of the guitar, Ben McKee’s funky bass solos to Daniel Platzman’s Animal drumming. Dan Reynolds, however, delivered a masterclass on performance. Not only does he possess insanely powerful, raw and heartbreaking vocals, but he has the trick down. He is able to connect with one person, and through them connect with all.
Imagine Dragons are my favourite band, and have been for a long time, so there wasn’t a lot of chance that this review would be without bias, but I am entirely certain that this show was magnificent. Wherever I looked after the show I saw my own smile reflected back. I saw them when they were last in Auckland, and there was definitely a difference. This was Imagine Dragons unleashed; more bold, more wild, more free – just like they wanted.