Returning to Philip's Arena for the first time since seeing Stevie Knicks in 2016, the first thing I noticed was the demographic. It was primarily teenagers with their parents, and I felt that if I were old enough to drink I should have a 16-year-old attached to me. Attending concerts solo has always yielded some fascinating experiences, and in this case, it was the pleasure of witnessing some truly astounding dad jokes followed by exacerbated eye rolls. Walking by the merch booth, I noticed shirts hung out sporting K. Flay and Grouplove graphics, giving away the openers that night.
Based out of California, Kristine Flaherty, better known as K. Flay, opened the first act of the night with "Giver" from her most recent album Every Where Is Some Where. Though her style ranges, she is most often considered a mix of hip-hop and indie rock. Though for an artist to represent either of these genres, her surprisingly soft-spoken voice made lyrics difficult to hear as she head-banged, rocker style, around the stage. She finished her set with her popular "Blood In The Cut" from her 2016 EP Crush Me and thanked the crowd. Before exiting the stage, K. Flay asked for a round of applause for our hosts of the night, Imagine Dragons.
Following K. Flay was Grouplove, a quirky, high-energy indie rock group whose members originally met at an art residency in Greece on the island of Crete. Singer and keyboardist Hannah Hooper pranced and danced her way around the stage in bright yellow hair and a retro-style leopard print jumper, looking like a hip, '80s jazzerciser. Also sporting yellow hair, fellow main vocalist Christian Zucchoni joined Hooper in their opening song, "Welcome To Your Life" from Big Mess. Their stage presence was infectious and Hannah's vigorous on-stage aerobics was enough to make everyone re-think their current workout routine.
Good humor permeated their performance as Zucchoni announced, "This next one is called "Shark Attack," but it has nothing to do with sharks. Enjoy." Especially enjoyable was their cover of Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" as the crowd rocked hard to the '90s classic. Ending with the rather fitting "Colours," they set the tone for the colorful performance that was to be Imagine Dragons.
The arena transformed, as lasers, projection boards and color-soaked mountains were erected, setting the stage for Imagine Dragons' Evolve Tour, showcasing their new album, Evolve. The lights went out and as a slow drum beat began, a video appeared on the projection screens. A video played of the evolution of mankind from the beginning of days when Earth was nothing but a flaming rock. It was a dramatic, engaging intro, but I felt their choice to open with "I Don't Know Why" was a bit anti-climatic, if not completely unrelated to the narrative of evolution we just heard. Despite this off-balanced prologue, the rest of the show was something I was unprepared for.
Lead singer Dan Reynolds greeted Atlanta with one of what was to be many speeches, uniting his fans in a plea to overcome our differences, and in his words, "To see past all the things society tries to divide us by, by race, religion, politics, but we will not be divided. We will continue to do what we love, which is music, which brings people together. So let's be here together in peace, in equality, in respect for one another."
After this, the show took a deeper turn with "It's Time," as his stories took an introspective turn. After dedicating "I'll Make It Up To You" to the love of his life (it's his wife fangirls, don't get too excited), Reynolds went on to reveal the struggles of his childhood and the evolution into the man he is today.
Reynolds' admission took me by surprise, as I had not expected to be taken off-guard by this band. I have battled depression, been into the lowest of pits and managed to crawl back out, and his words contained a truth in them that revealed a man who had seen the worst and the best of himself. Perfectly put, Reynolds went on to offer a token of hope for all those fighting their inner demons, "I was diagnosed with depression many years ago, and it has stopped me from nothing. It does not define me and it has never held me back from doing anything I wanted in life. It is a part of my journey."
The band queued up "Demons," and the crowd expressed a renewed fervor. It had hit home for many patrons.
Then, perhaps the most emotional moment of the evening happened. A second mini stage had been erected opposite the main stage, and upon reaching this stage the band slid into a cover of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down," eliciting a torrent of emotions and tears from everyone in attendance.
Back on the main stage, the band welcomed K. Flay to join them in their performance of "Thunder," while guitarist Wayne Sermon injected doses of guitar solos that were as rich as the colors displayed across the stage. The traditional encore never happened and in fact, Reynolds commented, "We are not going to do an encore, quite frankly it wastes time and we would rather be playing you music."
Amen to that.
After they concluded the 21-song set with "Radioactive," I walked out of Philip's Arena far more awed than I cared to admit. I had gone into the show expecting a poppy, teenage fangirl-pleasing act, but walked out having been challenged, pierced and ultimately enlivened.
Photos by Sidney Spear for Bullet Music