Imagine Dragons and Grace VanderWaal at the Budweiser Stage

Photos by Sue Sadzak

On the surface, pairing pop-rockers Imagine Dragons with the fresh-faced Grace VanderWaal seems odd. However, all it took was one good look at the audience for it all to make perfect sense. Imagine Dragons attracts a wide audience and is clearly popular across generations. The seats were peppered with pint-sized pop fans, who love to rock and for whom VanderWaal is an example of what kids can accomplish.

Imagine Dragons, the four member Vegas-based band, hinted at its hometown roots with its showy entrance. With dry ice pumping and multiple screens flickering, the band slowly came up on an elevating riser, each banging on a drum in shimmery, sparkly clothing. The move had the potential to be cheesy, but Imagine Dragons pulled it off with ease. The night kicked off with chart-topper, Radioactive. Using a uniquely Rock and Roll physics formula, shirtless lead singer, Dan Reynolds created energy by expending energy. He bent, bopped and bounced around the stage with abandon. Then Reynolds got Zen by stating that this was a night with no politics, no religion, no judgement. “May your mind be at peace. May you be happy,” he declared. Then he took an offering from a fan near the stage – a Canadian flag that had a pride coloured maple leaf in its centre. Symbolic and appreciated, he wrapped the flag around his sweaty shoulders.

A dozen songs followed, the devoted sang along throughout. Spectacle is central to the Imagine Dragons show – and the sense of fun and carefree positivity was punctuated at the end of “Walking the Wire” with a flurry of confetti. It’s worth noting that the showmanship did not outweigh the musicianship. In fact, there were some decidedly old-school rock flourishes in this show. Guitarist, Wayne Sermon, offered a wailing solo at the end of I’ll Make It Up to You and bass and drum solos followed later in the night. Start Over took the crowd to a warm place with its vaguely island rhythms and the second confetti blast of the night. (Perhaps Imagine Dragons is out to prove a correlation between confetti and fan-retention.)

The band popped onto a satellite stage that had been set up near the sound board for an acoustic three-song set. The five musicians sat in a circle facing outwards bringing the crowd in and elevating the feeling of intimacy. The set ended with a rousing version of I Bet My Life that had Reynolds venturing into the crowd for the second time that night.

Firmly back on the main stage, Imagine Dragons raised the roof with Demons – and Reynolds took a moment mid-song to make a case for destigmatizing mental health issues. He talked about his own depression and finally seeking help from a therapist. He implored fans not to suffer alone, to talk to someone if they feel down or disconnected, and to just stick around because every one of us is loved and needed. This week, in the shadow of two high-profile celebrity suicides (Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain), you have to hope that his message broke through the literal and metaphoric noise. The set moved on with Rise Up, Thunder, and On Top of the World. The crowd was up dancing and singing – generally feeling lifted by the music. The last song of the night was Believer – loud and powerful, it capped off the night on a high note, complete with the 5th (yes 5th!) confetti blast of the concert. It was a feel good night – and with a little luck, the seeds were sown for a whole generation of future rockers.