Thursday, August 16, 2018
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Review: Imagine Dragons light a fire under a new generation at Tampa’s MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre

Dan Reynolds dressed like a man who didn't care what the world thought: Crinkled navy gym shorts, white socks, white Vans (damn, Daniel!), and that's pretty much it.

Granted, the Imagine Dragons frontman is these days cut enough (and then some) to pull off such a minimalist look. But beyond that, the message might well have been: Why bother overdressing in the Florida heat when you're already the biggest rock band in pop?

"My mind has been boxed for many years, but now I am free," Reynolds told a sold-out crowd of 19,500 Friday at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre. "I need the validation of no man. No judgment has any means upon my heart or my mind because I know my truth."

You can't say it's not working for him. Imagine Dragons may make music for sports montages (be the Thunder, Lightning fans!), but after their super-sized, maximalized concert in Tampa, it's hard to deny they belong up there with the Coldplays and Maroon 5s of the world. The Las Vegas group has gone from overachievers to overplayed, but they're very much far from over.

Much like Reynolds' immaculate delts and traps — seriously, that dude was flexing like Thanos all night — Imagine Dragons has swollen its production right up to match its huge chart success. There were at least a half-dozen confetti explosions throughout the show, a shower of oversized balloons, a series of fireworks, a long trip through the crowd and countless columns of CO2.

But, you know, you have to go big when you open with Radioactive, still one of the most lethal live rock songs this decade. To keep it fresh — and maybe as a way to stay sane — Imagine Dragons have rearranged it somewhat, working in more piano and moving its signature all-hands-on-deck percussion breakdown from the bridge to the opening. They also did a little bit of this with their second song, It's Time, another early hit.

Imagine Dragons performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 10, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)
Imagine Dragons performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 10, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)
Imagine Dragons performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 10, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

If it makes them feel alive, so be it. Because when Imagine Dragons wallow in their grandiosity too much, things can get a bit dirgey – the turgid, half-rapped Whatever It Takes, for example, or the lethargic, lullaby-like Next to Me. Musically, there's depth there, a lot of it courtesy of Wayne Sermon's shimmering, textured guitars. But it can also feel like Christian rock without the gospel, the growl of a hunger pang with little of substance to fill your belly.

But snooze on Imagine Dragons at your own risk, because they can always peal out of any slog with another stadium-sized anthem– the chugging synthpop of Shots, the pump-up-your-soul revival of Mouth of the River, the burlesquified emo of Believer. An acoustic I Bet My Life, delivered with the band on a stage near the soundboard, lost a lot of its otherwise frenetic vitality, but Reynolds made up for it by going on a zenlike stroll through the crowd, stopping to sing where he pleased.

There were, somehow, even moments when Imagine Dragons showed they might yet get bigger from here. The thumping-rabbit heart of I'll Make It Up To You gave way to the trop-house, encore-worthy Start Over, a would-be poolside smash punctuated by a thumb-smacking bass solo by Ben McKee. And during Demons, as Reynolds preached on the stigma of depression and mental illness, fans on the video backdrop looked overcome as they sang along, their hands curled into hearts.

Imagine Dragons performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 10, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

One amazing thing about the whole spectacle just how many kids were there. So many kids! Kids on shoulders, kids on the lawn, kids out way past their bedtime, scooping up confetti in the aisles. For a lot of them, it had to be their first concert ever. The Amphitheatre even handed out official-looking first-concert certificates to parents and kids, proving forevermore that Imagine Dragons was their first big rock band and show.

It is possible the opening act, America's Got Talent-blessed quirk queen Grace VanderWaal, had something to do with the youth turnout.

Grace VanderWaal opened for Imagine Dragons at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 10, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

The 14-year-old prodigy sounded breezy and wonderful, whether delivering originals like Gossip Girl or covers like, of all things, Tyler, the Creator's See You Again. This being the last night of the tour, Imagine Dragons surprised VanderWaal by sneaking out with four vases of flowers before her modernized I Can See Clearly Now, a gesture that brought tears to her eyes. Buy stock if you're looking to invest in future Taylor Swifts.

It could just be that Imagine Dragons' pan-emotional pop-rock is just so elemental even kids can get a good handle on it. Empty vessels the band may sometimes be, but when you're singing to young, imaginative minds, a blank canvas might be the best thing possible.

So if you think Imagine Dragons are big now, just wait. To the countless kids who ate them up on Friday, they'll be legends for years to come. No matter what they choose to wear.

Imagine Dragons performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 10, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

— Jay Cridlin

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