As was quite amply evidenced by the disappointment that was Deadpool 2 recently, sequels rarely capture the magnificence of a splendid original. Imagine Dragons last played in New Zealand three years ago, in support of their second album, Smoke + Mirrors, and, as I reported on another website, their Auckland concert was a thoroughly spectacular event. In the meantime, Imagine Dragons have released a third record, Evolve; while Smoke + Mirrors was a remarkably detailed, creative and compelling set, Evolve is entirely less impressive. The former album was written almost entirely by the band alone, but this latest effort sees guest composers roped in, different ones across the track listing, and this is rarely a good sign.
The result last night, then, was a difficult show to review. On the one hand, it’s still Imagine Dragons — they are, undeniably, a potent live force. The heavy onstage lifting is done by singer Dan Reynolds, a man possessed of both an outstanding voice and what would appear to be some of the strongest knees in music; Reynolds skips and trips across the stage, up and down the runway, with a remarkable energy and agility, all the while delivering his lyrics with a voice which is as much an instrument in its own right as Wayne Sermon’s guitar, Daniel Platzmann’s drums or Ben McKee’s bass. On the other, a band can only ever be as good as the music they play, and in building their set mostly around songs from Evolve — they played almost the entire album — Imagine Dragons fell short of the excellence of their last visit to Auckland, and were merely very, very good.
That’s not to say, mind, that this show was a disappointment. Reynolds is an exceptional frontman, a performer capable of holding an audience’s focus effortlessly but who still puts a frankly alarming amount of effort into the show. He dances and leaps and owns the stage, while McKee and Sermon stay almost in the wings, providing a rich, textured, fully-fleshed accompaniment driven by Platzmann’s powerful, detailed and complex drumming. As the show developed, Reynolds shed what looked to be a very thick and fleecy jacket, and then his singlet, and performed much of the set wearing just a pair of gym shorts; hardly surprising, when one considers the energy he invests his performance with. More confetti than I’ve ever seen at a concert filled Spark Arena from countless blasts, and smokeshots punctuated the music. And for a quick trio of songs, the band walked down the side of the floor seating area to a small stage behind the mixing desk, switching instruments as they did, Platzmann playing guitar for a surprisingly twee and lifeless reading of I Bet My Life.
The setlist was an odd thing. As they have done for some time, Imagine Dragons played Alphaville’s Forever Young; it clearly speaks to the band in some way, and last night Reynolds introduced it almost as a tribute to the victims of America’s most recent school shooting. It’s a perfectly agreeable song, but it feels a little out of place in an Imagine Dragons set, but not as much as Three Little Birds did — quite why they felt the need to include a Bob Marley cover remains a mystery. But the highlights of the set were the older songs. Gold, perhaps the standout track from Smoke + Mirrors, got an airing early in the show, but that and I Bet My Life were the extent of that record’s contributions, and songs like Polaroid were sorely missed. And showcloser Radioactive reminded us why we were there — a powerful, thumping thing, it stomped along with pleasing force as Reynolds knelt before a perspex taiko drum and pounded with more energy than any man should have left after the performance he’d just delivered.
And then it was over. No encore — the four, and keyboardist Elliot Schwartzmann, took at bow at the front of the stage, the house lights came up as they stood there, and Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al played through the PA as the band left the stage.
I’ll go again, next time they come to Auckland. They’re Imagine Dragons — they put on a hell of a good show. But I do hope they have some better material to perform.
The Temper Trap