American Airlines Center, Dallas
Friday, July 17, 2015
Judging by the crowd who showed up to American Airlines Center on Friday night, Imagine Dragons have done more for sales of Cialis than any ad campaign run during a sporting event. The number of aging members of upper management spending exorbitant amounts on their second wives and their friends was off the charts. We're talking the best time and wine-based margaritas money can buy.
Lucky for Imagine Dragons, the sheer number of pre-teens, tweens and early teens who also showed up all but guarantees they’ll still be making the rounds in 10 years. They'll either be that band you go see when you're 25 because you loved them at 15, or one of the few groups who stayed at the top and kept their audience. So they’re either going to be the new Coldplay or the Smashing Pumpkins.
If you listen to the radio and/or watch TV, you know Imagine Dragons' brand of inoffensive, bass-heavy “rock” is inescapable. It would be unfair to call the members of the band bad at what they do. They’re all more than capable musicians. Their lead singer, Dan Reynolds, adeptly hits notes in the upper vocal register. He also has that bland, sort of hip look that fits the sitcom leading man archetype and can be best described as "McManbun." Which is to say the whole routine felt utterly artificial, as if it had all been done before.
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And it has. They’re following a playbook, and a strategy that bands like Coldplay have proven is successful over the last 15 years. That’s the tragedy: We've moved on from bands like Coldplay ripping off Radiohead to bands like Imagine Dragons ripping off Coldplay. It’s a copycat world, and Imagine Dragons are doing a hell of a job at picking out pieces that work from other bands and streamlining them into the least offensive product possible.
Throughout the night, people sang along to the band's songs with reckless abandon, all the while wearing $40 tour shirts and clutching VIP floor passes that put them 20 feet closer to the stage, all too happy to save McManbun from his job by singing for him. There's something extremely disconcerting about thousands of people singing, "I'm never changing who I am" in unison. Because, I don’t know, individualism is cool, but maybe a little introspection is a good idea from time to time.
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McManbun, having talked about how great the country is and how things are "gonna continue to change," really drove the point home by doing a solo rendition of Alphaville’s "Forever Young." Everything about it felt coldly calculated — music that's been totally exploited. Jay Z already pulled the Alphaville bit, but at least his use felt somewhat organic. This felt like someone said, “Hey, so we need a cover, how about ____, or _____? If you can do it after pausing and talking about the world, that will sell a few more shirts. And think of all the tweets we’ll get.” The crowd ate it up with glee.
And so this pattern continued throughout the night: A song would start, the crowd would cheer, my eyes would roll back into my head while everyone sang along to the chorus. Which brings us around to the deep, dark truth of the matter: The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist. His second greatest trick was convincing idiots to part with their money via a never-ending stream of terrible bands. Imagine Dragons are just his newest rabbit.
Openers Metric were, thankfully, not of the same breed. They’re a band who grew out of the indie scene of the early- to mid-2000s. Plenty of people thought they would make the leap to alternative radio and into arenas. In a way it’s happened; its not unusual to see Metric roped into one of corporate radio's many festivals that come through the area. They lend credibility to a lineup in the Death Cab for Cutie mode. Enough people loved them when they first started out, but they’ve had enough opportunities that now everyone sort of knows them.
Watching lead singer Emily Haines command an arena full of fans must be a surreal experience for fans of her work with the Soft Skeleton and as the third singer in Broken Social Scene. But like most things in the world, those who are meant to rise to the top do, and it won't be surprising if Metric takes another jump with their next album — that is, if radio decides they should. After all, it’s how Imagine Dragons got here, and they have half the charisma and confidence of Haines alone.