For every Foreigner, Styx and Pat Benatar-caliber act thawed out and propped up for a headlining gig 25 years too late, Summerfest deserves some credit for its ability to occasionally book bands just before their meteoric ascent to superstardom. Last June, fun. took to the Miller Lite Oasis on the cusp of staggering notoriety (they’re headlining a Marcus Amphitheater concert this time around). One year later to the day, Las Vegas radio rockers Imagine Dragons came to the same stage to a somehow even more massive reception to play what seemed to be its 2014 Marcus audition. An hour and one endearing, polished performance later, they’d advanced to the next level.
At 10 p.m. sharp, the Dragons emerged to the single largest free stage crowd I’d ever seen — I’ll save the diatribe about Summerfest’s embarrassing shortage of staff and utter disregard for the safety or general comfort of attendees for another day — and the already-frenzied crowd was cast into hysterics as the band opened with a brief interlude, complete with the ever-present visual of mulleted frontman Dan Reynolds bludgeoning a comically large bass drum with a mallet. As the first notes of “Round and Round” (off Continued Silence, one of the band’s many EPs) resonated through the Miller-sponsored melee, new vocal tones were unearthed when the panging screams of the throngs of girls melded with the boorish hollers of the bro infantry.
The level of excitement saw a notable uptick with each song that followed. Most people seemed to hold an intent gaze in the direction of the band (or, the view-obstructed video monitor, in my case), and songs were repeated with cult-like devotion. To Imagine Dragons’ credit, they aptly played the part of arena-worthy force. The alt-rock outfit expertly navigated its young-but-sturdy set with poise and passion. During the lively “Tiptoe,” Reynolds smashed the mallet clean through the head of the aforementioned bass drum because he was wailing on it so emphatically. Between songs, the band seemed to play an earnestly appreciate host to the way-way past capacity audience by repeatedly issuing thanks and telling how much it meant to be there.
Those not being trampled, shoved or forced to protect their children seemed to enjoy themselves, including a manchild whole scaled the neon “Cold Beer” sign on the Oasis — prompting two security guards to come and detain him. Imagine Dragons leaned into late-set hits like “Hear Me,” “Demons” and “Radioactive” and the crowd hit even higher-highs of excitement. Most songs were played with album quality precision, with a little wiggle room for audience chants and claps. The sole delineation in the live set came by way of encore “Nothing Left To Say,” which was extended considerably, almost as if the band didn’t want to say goodbye or wasn’t ready to end such a well-attended, enthusiastic (to a fault) affair.
But the band will no doubt be invited to play again next year. Hopefully, like fun., the next show will be of assigned seating amphitheater variety.