Here be dragons: An Imagine Dragons concert review

The first Imagine Dragons song I ever listened to was It’s Time — but they weren’t the ones performing it.

I first heard the incredibly peppy song on the now-defunct TV musical Glee as a number being performed by Blaine Anderson (played by Darren Criss) as a dedication of sorts to the eccentric and flamboyant Kurt Hummel (played by Chris Colfer), the latter contemplating his then-impending journey to New York. It was the perfect song for that scene. And why wouldn’t it be? After all, weren’t the song’s lyrics about embracing the unknown and taking that risky jump?

In many ways, that song by Imagine Dragons, a Las Vegas-based rock band composed of Dan Reynolds, Daniel Wayne Sermon, Daniel Platzman and Ben McKee, perfectly captured the band’s journey from being small-town musicians performing local shows to rock superstars performing for massive, sold-out crowds the world over.

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In an exclusive interview with GIST, Imagine Dragons described the songs contained in their second studio outing “Smoke + Mirrors” as wrestling with the interplay between dark and light, and faith and doubt — interplays made clear in their Manila show mainly through the songs contained within their setlist.

Kicking off the show with two numbers from their latest album, “Smoke + Mirrors” — Shots and Trouble — before launching into their breakthrough hit It’s Time, Imagine Dragons wasted no time in delivering their brand of feel-good music to their loyal legion of Filipino Firebreathers, who all unabashedly sang along at the top of their voices to the band’s other monster hits, as well as a cover of the popular Alphaville song Forever Young.

A far cry from the understated shows they used to play in smaller venues in their native Las Vegas, Imagine Dragons’ Manila show — which looked every bit a cross between the forthcoming Star Wars movie and the rock show that it is — featured a panoply of lights, lasers, and yes, smoke and mirrors. All of these complemented the raspy vocal prowess of band frontman Reynolds, who blazed through the group’s solid 16-song setlist, which the 15,000-strong MOA Arena crowd positively reacted to.

Boasting a sound best described as the result of an inter-marriage between radio-friendly pop and heavy rock riffs coupled with artistic license — they tend to sing about the apocalypse and airborne dust and prison buses after all — Imagine Dragons connected well with their audience. The band held musical sway over the audience as they performed their anthem-like hits Amsterdam and I Bet My Life, as well as lyrically somber and introspective tracks along the lines of I’m So Sorry and Smoke And Mirrors, slaying fans with sets featuring booming percussions and rapturous sing-alongs.

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Aside from being masterful musicians in their own right, the men behind Imagine Dragons were also veritable storytellers themselves, with vocalist Reynolds candidly relaying the deep-seated connection he says he has with the Philippines, which, according to him, stems from the stories told to him by his brothers, both Mormon missionaries.

“Two of my brothers lived here. And they always told me how wonderful the Filipino people are, that they’re the most kind, humble people you’ll ever meet in the whole world. And they fell in love with the people here, and they talked about you ever since I was very young,” Reynolds said to the adoring crowd, who replied with woots and cheers.

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An honest performer in every sense of the word, Reynolds had no qualms telling the crowd about his battles with — and subsequent success over — depression, telling those in attendance that yes, there is hope for everyone before launching into what might as well be the emotional highlight of the night: a back-to-back performance of the deeply relatable rock ballad Demons and the soaring Release, followed by the songs Hopeless Opus, On Top of the World, and Friction.

Rounding up the show’s later part, the band brought out its biggest hit to date: the chart-topping Radioactive.

The 9x-platinum song, which stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 charts for a record number of 87 weeks and earned the band a 2014 Grammy for Best Rock Performance, stirred the crowd into a musical frenzy: singing along to the band and holding lit cellphones up in the air to form a galaxy of stars for the band, taking to a climax what looked to be the night’s most spellbinding array of lights and lasers.

While not the most original-sounding as rock bands come — the band has been called U2-lite in most music circles, I kid you not — Imagine Dragons certainly holds up to the hype surrounding them: they’re eloquent, they’re talented and most of all, they love what they’re doing. After all, an artist must be doing something right when smartphone flashlights rise into the air and voices join effortlessly to fill in the words he leaves out.

(Photos by MIKE REBUYAS)

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The Philippine leg of Imagine Dragons’ Smoke + Mirrors Tour at the SM Mall of Asia Arena was made possible by Music Management International (MMI) Live. Copies of Imagine Dragons’ sophomore studio recording, “Smoke + Mirrors” are now available in major record stores nationwide.