Two songs into a set Saturday night at The Rave, Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds paused. He wiped his face, and looked over the sold out crowd that ringed the stage, from the crowded floor to the people standing in the balcony.
"You don’t know how much this means to us," he said.
He stepped away from the mic and dropped his head, his hands catching his knees. Those in the furthest reaches of the venue could see his back rise and fall heavy breaths.
"Thank you," he said after rising. "Thank you for sharing our music."
The band then launched into "Hear Me," an awesome spectacle of vocalization from Reynolds and sharpness from band mates Ben McKee, Wayne Sermon and Dan Platzman. Reynolds climbed the speakers and leaned over the crowd as he hit every note, feeding off the emotional display just moments before.
Reynolds thanked the crowd on several occasions between songs, noting it was the largest crowd they’d ever played for and at one point said "I can’t wait to come back to you already … I hope this is the beginning of a long relationship with Milwaukee."
The band finished with "It’s Time," and as Reynolds held the mic out to the crowd for a sing-along, he looked genuinely astonished at the support and the reaction. He repeatedly tapped his heart and waved, and once the song was finished he ran his hand from the back of his head to the front in pure astonishment.
As the applause built for an encore, Reynolds returned the stage. The lights went up so he could once again see the crowd. He gripped the mic stand and fell into his arms, head buried as the crowd roared.
"Best show on tour," he said once he collected himself. "Best show on tour."
"Nothing Left To Say" was the final song of the night, a proper sendoff to a crowd whose passion helped push the band to a new level - its members told those close to them it was the best show they’d ever put on. It can be difficult for a band to sound clean in the Eagles Ballroom, but the Dragons made that place sing.
Later, the band tweeted the above photo with a simple message to Milwaukee: #speechless.
McKee, Sermon and Platzman returned to the stage to rip the set lists off the floor and tossed them into the crowd, along with whatever drumsticks and guitar picks they had left. The crowd at The Rave, and its passion, had moved the band to tears.
Saturday was the third time Imagine Dragons had played Milwaukee – the first two coming at Rock The Green and Summerfest last year – and the group clearly has made a connection with the city. McKee and Platzman love Spotted Cow, with McKee clutching a six-pack of Wisconsin’s finest following a promotional appearance for FM 102/1 at SPiN Milwaukee as if it were a newborn.
McKee said it deserved the proper treatment – a slow pour into a frosted mug – and when I casually said, "enjoy," he turned with a huge smile and said "Oh, don’t worry about that." He was still raving about it two days later.
I can’t count the number of concerts I’ve seen in Milwaukee over the last seven or so years, covering all genres. Nearly every lead singer or rapper, at some point, has acknowledged the city and the crowd. It’s not that the sentiment isn’t genuine, but it usually comes across as something they have to say. And the crowd reacts accordingly – with a cheer, but devoid of true passion.
Saturday night was different.
When Reynolds broke down after the second song of the night, you could tell he was moved. I get chills now remembering "Hear Me," and the power with which he sang and the crispness in which they played. Reynolds is a great frontman, but you couldn’t fake what was going on with him, and the band, that night.
I don’t doubt that Imagine Dragons will be back to Milwaukee as soon as possible. No matter how big musical acts get, they remember days like Saturday night, when all they’ve got is one full length album but the crowd moves them to dig out another track just to thank them.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.