Imagine Dragons have blown up in the past year, seeing their debut studio album, 'Night Visions,' peak atop Billboard's Rock charts while selling out show after show on their 2013 tour. They rolled into the Eagles Ballroom at The Rave in Milwaukee on March 2 and rocked the historic venue to its core. Upstarts Nico Vega and Atlas Genius did their share to make it a night to remember.
Most of the sold-out crowd arrived early enough to catch Nico Vega take the stage at 8 p.m. The band has been making their mark on the road, currently touring on their latest E.P., "Fury Oh Fury," [review]. A large oil drum, spray painted with Nico Vega across the front, was used as a stool by guitarist Rick Koehler. He was joined by vocalist Aja Volkman for the opening number, the ironically delicate "Bang Bang."
Dan Epand, drums, and Jamila Weaver on bass joined in for the remainder of the set, which continued to increase in energy as their show unfolded. The oil drum became the focal point for Volkman. She straddled it for "Wooden Dolls" and stood upon it to project her slender frame across the Ballroom floor.
Using her versatile voice as an instrument, Volkman sampled a short vocal clip and then overlaid it with a beatbox track, before adding a third element for to commence "Back of My Hand." The effect definitely pulled in her audience, some were intrigued with the sampling while others were enamored simply by the beatboxing. However, the highlight of their time on stage was "Beast," which showed the strength of Volkman's vocals but also incorporated solid drum signatures for a powerful close to their 30-minute set.
Atlas Genius followed after a 20-minute set change. The Australian rockers have been made an impression with radio hit "Trojans," and have found themselves in an enviable position opening for Imagine Dragons to large audiences. Their 45-minute set allows them to cover all but one song from their debut album, "When It Was Now," released late last month.
Siblings Keith, Michael and Steven Jeffery form the foundation of Atlas Genius, with Darren Sell on keyboards. They cranked through songs, but Keith introduced "Don't Make a Scene" as a "song about having a lazy day and fighting with your girlfriend." They saved the best for their finale and Keith toyed with the crowd, simply saying, "This is our last song, it's about a horse" and then teased them with a few riffs before breaking into much anticipated "Trojans."
Despite solid performances by Nico Vega and Atlas Genius, this night was all about Imagine Dragons. A backdrop of elliptical screens and a few light trees sat behind a number of drums, including a massive 300-pound bass drum. The stage was set, the lights dimmed and vocalist Dan Reynolds began to pound the drum for their dramatic introduction.
They began with "Round and Round," a complex blend of Wayne Sermon's fretwork ties together ample rhythm contributed by drummer Dan Platzman and Reynolds. When Reynolds wasn't moving across every inch of the Eagles Ballroom stage, he was fixated in front of any number of drums that were placed about the stage.
The show was truly an audiovisual experience, though the aural qualities definitely trumped everything else. Their rich sound combined with Reynolds' vocal presence throttled the crowd as they constantly switched the mood from song to song.
Fans devoured everything thrown their way, finishing verses and showing their appreciation with fists held high. Reynolds addressed the rambunctious crowd after "Tiptoe," stating, "After living on couches and scraping by, you have no idea what this means to us." He later added, "You are a site to behold, this room is incredible. Third time in this area, each time is better than the last. Thank you Milwaukee."
Reynolds and Sermon performed alone for the emotional "Thirty Lives," perhaps the only tie during the night where the crowd was hushed. Bassist Ben McKee added a short but impressive bass solo as the band returned to play "Bleeding Out."
"Radioactive" nearly brought the house down, with everybody in the house singing with, or in place of, Reynolds. "Demons" and "It's Time" were also big hits with the crowd, the latter being the last song of their set. They did return for to the stage for "Nothing Left to Say" for their sole encore. Given the pace at which Imagine Dragons are expanding their fanbase, it would not be surprising if their next stop in Milwaukee was the Marcus Amphitheater for 2014 Summerfest.
Imagine Dragons' setlist:
Round and Round
Cha-Ching (Till We Grow Older)
On Top of the World
Nothing Left to Say