Saturday’s show at the Warfield in San Francisco featured an interesting juxtaposition of bands: A Las Vegas band that used to open for a Los Angeles band found itself the headliner, with their roles reversed, and an up-and-coming act that may soon be headlining venues of that size in San Francisco was plopped in the middle.
The headliners happened to be Imagine Dragons, who a little under a year ago played in a morning slot to an unassuming crowd at Live 105’s BFD. Next month, they’ll be headlining the 9,000-fan-capacity America’s Cup Amphitheater in the City. That’s a very quick climb.
The first band was Nico Vega, whose vocalist, Aja Volkman, is married to Imagine Dragons’ frontman Dan Reynolds.
The middle act was Australia’s Atlas Genius, whose buzz was building much prior to the release of its debut album, When It Was Now, last month. It was this band that got the young crowd – and this distinction should be made because Imagine Dragons’ fans have been getting progressively younger over the past year – moving for the first time.
Atlas Genius, which combines the angular rock of Franz Ferdinand with the synthy dance of Two Door Cinema Club, is another indie band getting some mainstream attention. Just last August, the band opened for another act at Popscene for its first San Francisco performance.
Due to its poppy sounds and the attention the quartet is receiving, Atlas Genius should be playing some larger venues soon. Singer-guitarist Keith Jeffery has a perfected a type of backward speed walk maneuver, which he used to work both sides of the stage Saturday.
While some of the songs were indistinguishable from one-another, the energy of the performers and the audience made up for that.
Nico Vega’s Volkman, who had recently given birth, seemed ecstatic to be back on stage, though her wide smile took away from her Joan Jett persona. The four-piece maneuvered between blues-rock and pop through a short set that included the musicians standing on barrels set in front of the stage. Singing “Gravity,” from a 2011 EP, Volkman soliloquized, “I’m afraid of heights.”
Perhaps the barrels need guardrails.
Volkman danced with her and Reynolds’ child during the Imagine Dragons set.
The Vegas band is still on track to be playing arenas in the near future, as its fan base is quickly multiplying. They now fit into the “fans want to touch them” category, and Reynolds is turning into a recognizable frontman. If he would shave off his signature rat tail, he may even pass for Chris Martin with those curly blond locks.
Imagine Dragons once again demonstrated the strength of their debut album, Night Visions, because each song performed could be a radio single. Reynolds was often drowned out by fans singing all of the lyrics or clapping and stomping – even hard enough to make the balcony shake.
The stage design included four tree cut-outs that framed a large half-moon behind the band. From the trees hung lights, and the moon was used as a projection screen. It was actually not unlike the backdrops used by Carrie Underwood on her current tour; just scaled back a bit.
The only distraction came in the form of all the extra percussion instruments on stage. The big kick-drum sitting on its side next to Reynolds has been a signature of the band for some time – and has become the go-to instrument for other lead vocalists who can’t play guitar – but it’s starting to get a bit out of hand. This time around, that oversize drum had a big brother in a Taiko drum as tall as Reynolds himself. There were also two smaller drums and an archipelago of four other tom drums.
On at least two occasions, none of the five band members were playing their true instruments and instead hammered away as though in a tribal drum corps. For one song, such as “Radioactive,” that’s acceptable. But Imagine Dragons do not need those drums for an entire show. They can move beyond the props now. Their name speaks for itself.