by Danny Stout
The movie-theater concert simulcast is an emerging art form, a creative synthesis of music, cinematography, and virtual simulation of live performance. Fathom.com’s production of Imagine Dragons’ “Smoke + Mirrors” show in Regal Cinemas is intricately choreographed, with over 20 cameras and a mobile cam placing viewers on stage with band members Dan Reynolds, Wayne “Wing” Sermon, Ben McKee and Daniel Platzman. Sweat drips from Reynold’s forehead as you’re transported to the steamy Toronto venue with 15,000 fans.
American Music Awards, Grammy Awards, Billboard Music Awards, and World Music Awards were earned by the band from Las Vegas. LDS fans recall Dan Reynolds in particular, a returned missionary and former student at Brigham Young University. Reynolds is catalyst for a positive band culture. “I know you have pressures,” he tells the audience, “…but no matter what it is, work, financial, you can get lost in the music. It’s all about the music.”
Beyond the 20-song set list, which should satisfy the most ardent “Firebreathers,” something akin to a cathedral of rock is created. Performances of “Shots,” “Forever Young,” and “Smoke and Mirrors,” create the numinous. That is, the senses are engaged, the songs packed with meaning, and the crowd becomes community. Fans sing every word to every song. During “Shots,” Reynolds pauses intermittently, turning audience into chorus:
I’m sorry for everything
Oh, everything I’ve done
From the second that I was born it seems I had a loaded gun
And then I shot, shot, shot a hole through everything I loved
Oh, I shot, shot, shot a hole through every single thing that I loved
The band is noted for varied rhythms and tempo as in “I Bet My Life,” which moves back-and-forth between soft ballad and a more aggressive chorus. This blend of genres across and within songs is exemplified by “Radioactive” which builds to a crescendo, the audience shouting, “Welcome to the new age, to the new age. I’m radioactive, I’m radioactive.” The song evokes REM, but the Dragons’ instrumentation is carefully monitored. Nothing is louder than it should be. Percussion is always distinct and crisp, and guitar chords salient due to the superb sound system.
“Smoke and Mirrors” is perhaps the highlight, the crowd gently singing: “All that I’ve known…Buildings of stone…Fall to the ground without a sound,” and suddenly elevating their voices, but not losing the message: “But all that I hope is it just smoke and mirrors.” Imagine Dragons offer sensitive songs for those yearning for meaningful music. Yet it’s highly listenable for one just seeking well-crafted melody.
Concert films are difficult to make, and the people at Fathom left nothing to chance with every scene meted to the flow of the show. The form has come a long way since the movies Woodstock and The Last Waltz. Computerized synchronization of cameras and sound transport the audience to the event in a state of hyper-reality.
Comparisons to religious experience may be problematic for some, but the film elicits deep listening, a state we’re hearing more about these days. Smoke and Morrors isn’t church, but it’s certainly blissful and some might say divine.