Rock is dead if you believe Billboard charts, Rolling Stone covers and the Grammys (where Led Zeppelin just won best rock album for the film soundtrack of a concert featuring songs from more than 30 years ago).
But if you live in the Twin Cities, you might believe rock is alive and well — at least for the past week.
Last Thursday, Kings of Leon delivered a loud, precise regurgitation of their recordings for 7,000 fans at Target Center. On Saturday, Arcade Fire thrilled 10,000 at Target Center with its arty, sweaty, disco-y indie-rock. And on Wednesday, Imagine Dragons slew 14,000 at sold-out Xcel Energy Center.
Imagine Dragons are America’s biggest rock band of the moment. Their hit “Radioactive” has set a record for being on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for 79 weeks — and counting. Their “Night Visions” album has sold more than 2 million copies, and the Las Vegas quartet has played three concerts in the Twin Cities in the past 13 months.
While the Dragons impressed last March at the Varsity Theater and in September at Roy Wilkins Auditorium, it was obvious Wednesday that they are not ready to be an arena headliner. The Dragons lacked the range, depth, sonic oomph and bells and whistles to carry a 100-minute arena show. This was, in essence, the same presentation as at the 5,000-capacity Wilkins (save for a new cover song).
How ’bout adding another instrument? The sound had too much bottom and midrange and too little treble. How ’bout adding some more compelling songs? One album and a wimpy cover of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” aren’t enough. (Singer Dan Reynolds couldn’t approach Rush’s high notes, and drummer Daniel Platzman doesn’t belong in the same sentence with Neil Peart.) How ’bout making a moment (or two) in the show? The pretty, melodic “Demons,” with its drums-free verses and booming choruses, could have been that moment with, say, an explosion of confetti and streamers at the end.
Call them the Unimaginative Dragons.
Moreover, with only two concerts left after a couple of years of touring, the Dragons seemed tired. After mentioning how the band almost got stuck in Texas, threatening to cancel the St. Paul show, frontman Reynolds seemed so dazed and confused that, at one point, he said it would be a long time before the Dragons perform in Minnesota again because they need to make their second album and, later in the evening, he promised to see us real soon.
At least, the 26-year-old Reynolds, sporting a Macklemore hairdo, started the show with hyperactive aplomb, singing with a distinctive hip-hop delivery while Platzman provided a percussive hip-hop cadence. With seven drum setups onstage, the Dragons, clad in plain black Ts, seemed to owe a debt to Blue Man Group. Echoes of U2, Mumford & Sons and Coldplay cropped up from time to time. “On Top of the World,” the night’s lightest and most festive number, sounded either like a Jason Mraz salute or an outtake from the movie “The Little Mermaid.”
That’s a mighty long way from rock ’n’ roll. But the Dragons showed enough percussive punch to suggest an encouraging future. With another quality album or two, one could imagine the Dragons breathing new life into the rock scene.