Recognizing the thousands of kids and teenagers at Imagine Dragons' Milwaukee tour stop Friday, frontman Dan Reynolds had something to say.
“Don’t ever let anybody make you feel small.”
The sold-out crowd at Fiserv Forumlet out a euphoric cheer, but a little later in the night, my heart sank.
There was a young teenager sitting next to me whowas feeling very small, because of the actions of another fan in the crowd.
I could tell she wasexcited to be there as I approached my seat. She was with her friends, and seemed to have a new Imagine Dragons handbag.
And as the concert went underway, the teen — 15 or so, perhaps, but it was hard to guess with the mask— was largely hovering over her dimly lit phone on her lapand looking down. And that's fine. Maybe she was overstimulated. Maybe she was anxious to be around a huge crowd again. Honestly, it doesn't matter — ifthat's how she was most comfortable experiencing the show, then so be it.
But a nosy older woman behind us wouldn't have it.
"You're missing a great concert," the womansnapped at her. "You keep staring at yourphone."
The girl looked startled and embarrassed. "I'm listening," she respondedmeekly.
After that, she sank down even lower in her seat, practically in a ball. A couple songs later, she began to cry.
Fortunately, she had a really great friend by her side who validated her, covering her with her jacket and putting her arm aroundher for much of the remainder of the concert.
As we start to gather again at what's hopefully the beginning of the end of the pandemic, maybe we could all use a reminder of what a concert should and shouldn't be.
It shouldn't be a place where you can be rude to a stranger, and it shouldn't be a place to confront someone with judgment.
A concert should be a safe space, where we can process our feelings andescape our worries, connectedwith strangers over a mutual love for themusic.
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Imagine Dragons' Reynolds understands this, and said as much Friday night.
"We ask nothing but just for you to let go, to be easy on yourself … to forgive yourself," he said. "Leave it all at the door: work, politics, religion, pain, school, stress, hate, negativity. …Tonight, it is just for you to celebrate yourself, celebrate who you are."
"Above all, we hope that you just take whatever you need from tonight," he continued, "whether it's a shoulder to cry on … to commemorate those we've lost … to celebrate the life we have.
"Whatever it may be you need, I hope it's yours."
Imagine Dragons gets knocked for itsearnestness, and at times, it can be a little much. There were a couple moments Friday night when Reynolds waskneeling before the concert's big screenas it flashed arty images (a shadowy figure running along a beach,gold dust flinging off a flying sparrow) set to pretentious narration about "souls intertwined," "highest peaks tied to deepest valleys" and so on.
But I don't doubt Reynolds' sincerity. And across a two-hour set, the banddid its best to make everyone feel the music's intent, and to feel seen.
Front-loading the setlist with a coupleof the band'smost sweeping anthems — including "Believer" and "Thunder" — and overloading the show out of the gate with confetti and fireworks, Reynolds ran all along the stage's runways, leaping, spinning, stomping, pounding his chest.
Spotting a fan's sign in the pit that read "You Inspire Me," he sang part of "It's Time" directly to them, dropping down to his knees to grasp their hands, one of dozens of fans he reached out to throughout the night.
And when it seemed he'd take an extended breather during "Amsterdam," joining the rest of the band back on the main stage, the respite was brief, with Reynolds eventually ending up on the runway again, singing with neck bulging intensity, looking like he was ready to run through a brick wall.
Imagine Dragons is touring behind last year's "Mercury — Act 1." Critics were not kind, and it's not likely to generate one of the band's biggest hits. But there were a couple new songs that really registered live.
On "Lonely," Reynolds sang of feeling anxious and isolated, about forcing a smile "to keep things easy," and hiding in corners hoping "that no one sees me." Comfort came from Wayne Sermon's pretty acoustic guitar melodies, Daniel Platzman and Ben McKee's bass and drum funk break, and some wavy, '70s-style keys from touring member Elliot Schwartzman.
"Wrecked" was especially intense live, processing grief and overwhelming sadness without sugarcoating or dismissing those feelings. And Reynolds waved a fan's flag that read "Life Is Worth Living" during the assuring "It's OK," prefacing the song by telling younger fans to "love yourself, " to "be passionate," that they should talk tosomeone if they feel depressed.
"See a therapist. I havea therapist," he stressed. "It doesn't make you weak. It doesn't make you less than. It's not something to be shy about. The whole world needs therapy."
There was a lot of heaviness Friday, so it was nice to see the band was capable of a little musical levity, doing a short, spry set on the B-stage. There, they imagined"Next to Me," "I Bet My Life" and "One Day" with a softer touch, and they did a pretty cover ofBob Marley's "Three Little Birds."
But the Dragons are best with bombast, so they brought the show toward its climax with their biggest hit "Radioactive" — the one that was top of the charts in 2013 when there werethoseinfamous bottlenecks at the Summerfest gates for their Miller Lite Oasis set— with Reynolds starting the song quietly on piano, and Sermon doing a blistering guitar solo from an elevated platform at the end.
And after the lights went up, I was relieved to see the girl who was sitting next to me, who had been so crushed earlier, leave the show with her head held high, thanks to the band, and thanks to her friend.
- About eight hours before taking the stage in Milwaukee, Imagine Dragons canceled shows in Russia and Ukraine this June due to the invasion. And during "Time," Reynolds said they were with Ukraine and called for peace.
- After performing "Next to Me," Reynolds was tipped off by one of his bandmates that a man in the pit had just proposed, stopping the show to have the crowd cheer the newly engaged couple, and dedicating "I Bet My Life" to them.
- This was the third show across three consecutive nights at Fiserv Forum, preceded by Dua Lipa Wednesday and Tyler, The Creator Thursday. In terms of crowd size, it was by far the biggest, with nearly every seat taken and the floor filled with fans.
1. "My Life"2. "Believer"3. "Hopeless Opus"4. "It's Time"5. "Thunder"6. "Amsterdam"7. "Shots"8. "Birds"9. "Follow You"10. "Lonely"11. "Wrecked"12. "Natural"13. "Next To Me"14. "I Bet My Life"15. "Three Little Birds" (Bob Marley and the Wailers cover)16. "One Day"17. "Whatever It Takes"18. "It's OK"19. "Demons"20. "Enemy"21. "Bad Liar"22. "Radioactive"23. "The Fall"24. "Walking the Wire"25. "My Life" (reprise)
Piet also talks concerts, local music and more on "TAP'd In" with Evan Rytlewski. Hear it at 8 a.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9), or wherever you get your podcasts.