A thunderstorm rattled Lake Tahoe on Saturday. But instead of scattering, a crowd of thousands stood up and roared.
On this occasion, Mother Nature didn’t provide the electrical energy. The Imagine Dragons took care of that. The Dragons were preaching through the choir, and the message was packed with some serious stuff: fame and fortune, greed, depression, and a nuclear knockout that ended it all.
The congregation took it all in. Many had gathered earlier in the day to rub elbows with celebrities at the American Century Championship at nearby Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. As the sun set, the masses assembled at Harveys Outdoor Arena and the Imagine Dragons took the pulpit to deliver its alt-rock sermon.
“It’s time to begin, isn’t it?” singer Dan Reynolds asked in the opening tune, “It’s Time,” from the Dragons’ debut 2012 album “Night Visions.” The record racked up double-platinum sales. Two years later, this February, the group released “Smoke + Mirrors” and the Dragons have crisscrossed the country this summer to share their wisdom with all who would listen.
“I don’t ever wanna let you down. I don’t ever wanna leave this town. ‘Cause after all, this city never sleeps at night.” Reynolds may have been speaking of Las Vegas, where the band is based, but the Lake Tahoe show was a homecoming of sorts, too. Reynolds is a fourth-generation Nevadan. His wife, Aja Volkman, and their 2-year-old daughter Arrow were enjoying the show. And bass player Ben McKee, who hails from the sleepy hamlet of Foresthill in the Sierra Nevada foothills, now lives in Tahoe Meadows. “Ten minutes that way,” McKee pointed.
“Shots,” a hit song from “Smoke + Mirrors,” rang out next. Reynolds apologized: “I’m sorry for everything, oh everything I’ve done. From the second I was born it seems I had a loaded gun. And then I shot, shot, shot a hole through everything I love.”
Imagine Dragons is known for looking inward and spilling it all out. Reynolds admitted his longtime battle with depression and implored others to carry on. “Many people struggle with depression every day,” he said. “Here’s to you. Keep waking up every day. It’s not the end all, be all.”
He wrote a song about it, “Release.” Reynolds rolled it out: “Twenty miles from anyone. Set my sights on the setting sun. Heaven talks but not to me. Cause heaven knows nothing good comes for free… Is there nothing good in me? I’ve let me down, down, down, down…”
But the energy on stage was up, up, up. Reynolds stood up front and apart from bandmates at some recent shows, but was all over the stage on Saturday, hopping up on a sound monitor when he had a point to make. On two occasions, the entire band – with the exception of touring keyboard player Will Wells – pounded on drums. Percussionist Daniel Platzman had some helping hands from Reynolds, McKee and guitarist Wayne Sermon. The Dragons were “On Top Of The World.”
“Been dreaming of this since a child,” Reynolds sang. “I’m on top of the world.”
But with the highs come the lows and a price that must be paid. “Demons” deals with the “beast inside… there’s no where we can hide.”
“No matter what we breed, we are still made of greed. This is my kingdom come…”
“Gold” ponders what happens “when … everything you touch turns to gold.”
“First comes the blessing of all that you’ve dreamed. But then comes the curses of diamonds and rings… Who can you trust? Who can you trust?”
A heavy topic, fame and fortune. Even heavier was the Imagine Dragons’ closing song, “Radioactive,” which earned the band a 2014 Grammy for best rock performance. Concertgoers already were firmly planted on their feet. They could feel the vibrations. “This is it, the apocalypse. Whoa.”
“I’m waking up. I feel it in my bones. Enough to make my system blow. Welcome to the new age… Whoa, oh, oh, oh, I’m radioactive, radioactive… I raise my flag and dye my clothes. It’s a revolution, I suppose. We’re painted red to fit right in. Whoa…”
Reynolds and Sermon took turns pounding a huge base drum at the end of the song, with McKee and Platzman joining in the circle. Wells dug deep to carry the tune on the keyboard. In the end, when it was over, the stage was painted red and the Dragons departed. Radioactive.
ABOUT Randy Hashagen
Tahoe Onstage copy chief Randy Hashagen, a former Bay Area journalist, walked away from his career to become a crazy cab driver. He's still barnstorming, but his wing-walking days are over. Lately, he has been watching the world flow through Lake Tahoe since 2012.