For a tour named after an album called Smoke + Mirrors, Imagine Dragons sure were transparent when they played Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl on July 21. True, they started as silhouettes behind a white screen before launching into “Shots,” also the first song on their latest album, but once they were unveiled the stage was set for a night of gratitude, humility and perseverance.
Before their third song, charismatic Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds took a minute to reflect on how far the Las Vegas band has come in four years — from playing small clubs here to packing this venue — and thank San Diego (in particular, 91X) for being “one of the first places to play us on the radio.”
The singing along to “It’s Time” (“Never changing who I am!”) and subsequent applause and adoration seemed to genuinely touch Reynolds. In fact, it the emotion repeatedly prevented him from starting the next song, as he covered his face in disbelief and then graciously smiled as if to say, “For me?!”
Along with his bandmates (guitarist Wayne “Wing” Sermon, bassist Ben McKee, drummer Daniel Platzman, and touring musician Will Wells on keyboards), Reynolds returned the love throughout the 90-minute show, often reaching out, waving, and blowing kisses. The 16-song set list was dominated by Smoke + Mirrors tracks — such as the hard-rocking “I’m So Sorry” and “Polaroid” — as well as hits from their double-platinum debut, 2012’s Night Visions, including “Demons” and closer “Radioactive.”
The high-energy show’s pivotal moment came during “On Top of the World,” when Reynolds hopped to the floor — not to crowd-surf, but to make his way to the stairs and climb to the very top of section F, all while singing and not missing a beat. Any rock star can briefly enter the stage-front fray, but few would brave ever getting back from the uppermost seats.
During his intro to “I Bet My Life,” the singer thanked Tim Cantor, who created the artwork for Smoke + Mirrors (including the striking album cover), and his dad for introducing him to the San Diego artist; both were in the audience that night. He also shared his struggle with depression over the last few years, saying this wasn’t a sob story but a lesson to never let any challenge stand between you and your dreams.
So, to a casual fan, “The Fall” may have seemed an unlikely, if not anticlimactic encore. The one-two punch of “Demons” and “Radioactive” may have made more sense. That was, until the song (fittingly, the last on Smoke + Mirrors) built to a crescendo and Reynolds sang, “I’m ready for the fall / I’m ready for everything that I believed in to / drift away” as confetti leaves cascaded down on the crowd below.