For a long time, I lived under the illusion that it was impossible for a band to sell out a headlining arena show. As I got older, I started to see more and more breakout artists do it and realized that while it was an amazing feat, it wasn’t exactly impossible. I finally experienced this phenomenon in the form of Imagine Dragons at the Pepsi Center, who dazzled with an explosive performance with enticing openers to boot.
The first of the two openers that night was K.Flay, a Chicago born, San Francisco Bay area transplant that has been slowly gaining recognition in alternative radio over the years. K.Flay performs her shows with a total of three people on stage: herself, guitarist Josh Lippi and drummer Will Baldocci.
Despite the small assortment of performers, their stage presence was impeccable. K.Flay opened with one of her best songs, “Giver.” She quickly followed it up with the lead single, “Black Wave” from her new album Every Where is Some Where. “Black Wave” had all of the alternative radio fans singing along and really kicked off the high energy that filled the entire set. Each song had a nice contrast between high-energy headbanging and extremely passionate singing. Combined with evenly spread out singles in the set list, it made for an intriguing and engaging appetizer show while waiting for the main course.
The second opener of the night was the Los Angeles based Grouplove, a band that has also come across some great radio success over the last few years. They opened the set with their most recent radio success, “Welcome To Your Life,” engaging the crowd into the music while setting high expectations for what was coming. Soon came fan favorite “Hippie Hill,” when it was noticeable who the Grouplove loyal in the crowd were. Relevant to Colorado fans due to what people consume on “Hippie Hill” in San Francisco, the track really brought the performance together. It was the peak of their set, with the most energy and passion. Just a few songs before the end of their set, Grouplove pulled out another radio hit, “Tongue Tied.” Although they played two less well-known songs afterwards, “Tongue Tied” left almost everyone in the room feeling good and ready to experience the main event.
Imagine Dragons came out and did exactly what I expected them to do, play a large number of songs from their three albums. What I did not expect was the band to play this vast array of songs for two hours straight and still have energy for an invigorating performance by the end. They entered with the track “I Don’t Know Why,” which was fitting as it is the first track on their most recent album, Evolve. This was closely followed by “It’s Time,” the song that first started putting Imagine Dragons on the public’s radar. Motivational speeches from lead singer Dan Reynolds between great performances and non-singles kept the entertainment value and my investment in the show high.
The band did a great job of keeping the attention of the sold out arena by asking small things of them, like screaming the word “yesterday” at appropriate times during the song of the same name. By the time the next major hit, “Demons,” came around, the entire arena was on its feet, completely involved in what was happening in front of them. Reynolds continued to bare his heart to the crowd between songs, telling personal stories about the history of the band, his struggle with depression and the origins of the songs. These stories made the whole show feel more personal, watching a real person tell stories about their experience with life for an emotionally resonant effect.
These emotions were powerful. I was ready to cry by the time the band made it to the B stage and started a cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” The entire B stage set was done acoustically and featured string instruments and an upright bass. The acoustic aspect of this B stage set really brought out the musical skill of each member of Imagine Dragons. This allowed me to understand their quality as a whole package. Not long after their miniature set at the B stage, a few really popular singles were played. Before their biggest hit of all time, “Radioactive,” the band admitted that they were going to forgo an actual encore as it would waste the time they had to play music. They stayed on stage and continued to bring energy, personal stories and emotion all the way through the end of their last song “Believer.”
Imagine Dragons exited the stage leaving an uplifting and invigorating performance behind them. For me, every aspect of the show was executed perfectly. The set production was well thought out and stunning to look at, the energy and the stage presence was high for all three artists who performed. Most importantly, Imagine Dragons managed to make an arena full of over 20,000 people feel like an intimate show. That is why I can safely say I will do everything in my power not to miss Imagine Dragons the next time they come around. I am kicking myself that it took so long in the first place.
Contact CU Independent Photographer Angel Smith at Angela.Smith@colorado.edu.