Of all the gutsy things an arena rock band can do, Imagine Dragons began their 90-minute Lollapalooza Paris performance a few months ago with the sounds of the humble mandolin, kickstarting the show with one of their earliest hits ‘It’s Time’. Frontman Dan Reynolds remained the focal point for thousands of phone cameras recording the return of the American pop-rock band, as guitarist Wayne Sermon picked at the mandolin.
It is that kind of hard-to-predict route that makes the four member band — Reynolds, Sermon, bassist Ben McKee and drummer Daniel Platzman — a hit among audiences. McKee, a graduate of Berklee College of Music (like everyone except Reynolds), says over a call that there’s often the craft of improvisation on display in Imagine Dragons’ sets wherever they go. “We never play the same song the same way twice.”
An ambitious debut
They are right at home at Lollapalooza, a multi-genre gathering that’s set up stages around the world and is now making its way to India later this month. In a country where long-running music festivals such as Bacardi NH7 Weekender, Ziro Festival of Music, Sunburn and Magnetic Fields Festival may have earned their cred for bringing together international flavours alongside Indian favourites, Lollapalooza India is kicking off by stacking up the most number of international live bands at an Indian music festival in recent memory.
With the pandemic still posing challenges for promoters to book big-name international acts, they have leveraged their globe-trotting international brand name spanning about 30 years to bring in current, never-before-seen artists such as Japanese Breakfast, ZHU and Indian-origin performer Raveena to the country. With an ambitious 60,000 tickets to sell, it is one of the most enterprising debut editions of what will be an annual affair.
For artists like Imagine Dragons, they were drawn to Lollapalooza not just for their long-running familiarity, but also the vibe it sets up for artists. “Perry [Farrell, the founder] has been a great supporter. And we’ve had great times, bonding with the bands. The way he’s curated the whole experience, it really does have a sort of communal experience — everybody comes out of their shell, hangs out, and it creates a fun atmosphere that spills over onto the stage,” says McKee, ahead of their concert that will arguably represent pop-rock music, retaining a bit of the early 2000s tropes but updating it with current-day production.
Never play it the same
It takes a lot to be called one of the current torchbearers for arena rock in the world, but also be derided as formulaic music makers. But Imagine Dragons take it all in their stride. Formed in Las Vegas in 2008, they took off just around the time of releasing their debut album Visions in 2012. While some critics called them “the worst band” for their loud music and ‘unimaginative’ songwriting, Imagine Dragons’ audience kept growing by the millions, fuelled by their songs’ relatability and honesty.
In the years that they were put down for being generic, the band went on to win a Grammy, a few American Music Awards, gathered hundreds of thousands of fans around the world to see them on sold-out tours, and arguably kept rock music alive in the mainstream. So much so that they even crossed over, creating ‘Enemy’ with rapper JID in 2021, for the Netflix series Arcane (an adaptation of the video game series League of Legends).
It has been a decade since and Imagine Dragons have gone from being just known for songs such as ‘Radioactive’, ‘Believer’ and ‘Thunder’ to plotting out a two-part album called Mercury, whose Act 1 released in 2021, followed by Act 2 in 2022. Pop albums are usually reserved for when artists want to make a larger, concept-driven statement. They have sometimes fallen short in terms of possessing songs of substance, but Mercury lived up to the hype — with an hour and 42 minutes of emotion-soaked, grandiose music. The band doubled down on their genre-jumping sound that encompassed everything from EDM to pop, rock and R&B, putting out songs such as ‘Follow You’, ‘Wrecked’, ‘Bones’ and ‘Sharks’. “We had written so much music that we were so proud of, there was no way we could release less than that many songs,” McKee says.
Now, Imagine Dragons are here to show their strength, whether in Qatar, Bahrain, India or South Africa on their Mercury World Tour. “We’re going to chalk up a lot of frequent flyer miles on this one,” McKee concludes.
When in India
Lollapalooza India is on January 28-29 at Mahalaxmi Race Course, Mumbai.
The writer is a Bengaluru-based independent music journalist.