In the living room of a quiet Las Vegas neighborhood, Imagine Dragons singer Dan Reynolds is slapping a beat on the guitar case across his lap. He's dressed in black and swivels slightly in his chair, singing a new song called "I Bet My Life" with the rest of his band gathered in a circle.
Reynolds closes his eyes and earnestly sings, "I know I took the path that you would never want for me/I gave you hell through all the years." He's joined on the chorus by the band's other voices blending into warm harmony: "I bet my life, I bet my life for you ..."
Drummer Daniel Platzman sits on the carpet sawing on a viola, as guitarist Wayne Sermon and bassist Ben McKee strum acoustic instruments. Reynolds nods with a smile. "Yeah, that's pretty cool," he says, and they begin the song again.
In a few hours, the quartet would be back on the Vegas Strip, making an unannounced acoustic appearance night in front of the Bellagio hotel and casino, and raising $100,000 for local music education. The three-song set is part of the "Playing It Forward" series of surprise live shows for Crackle, which will stream video of Imagine Dragons' performance beginning November 21st. The series is produced by Team Downey, founded by Robert Downey Jr. and wife Susan Downey.
In a corner leans a stack of platinum sales plaques for 2012's Night Visions album, which introduced the band beyond its initial club following with the huge pop hits "Radioactive" and "Demons," among others. The band's rehearsal comes during a momentary break from the recording of their sophomore album, due early next year.
This house refitted as a private recording studio is one perk of their success, allowing the band to work for as long and as often as inspiration demands. The four musicians have been paring things down from more than 100 song ideas. And they're still writing.
The Saturday night set would be a rare night out in public, and a return to the Vegas Strip where Imagine Dragons spent many nights playing covers and originals after first coming together as a band in 2008. This time busking in front of the epic Bellagio fountains, the band would perform "Radioactive" and "It's Time," as they have repeatedly in various ways over the last two years, but it would be only the second time playing "I Bet My Life" live, and the first time ever on acoustic instruments. They needed to rehearse.
"'Radioactive' took a minute to really translate to what felt like the right place for it," says Reynolds of the process of stripping songs down to their acoustic essences. "But something like this is already kind of a folkie song. It could have been barber-shopped out."
Less mysterious is the kind of audience the band would be facing: Vegas tourists. Many of the band's early shows were at casinos in the band's hometown. "I've definitely played my fair share in front of Vegas tourists," says Reynolds. "They are generally people who are looking to have a good time already, who are a little drunk and feeling good. It's a pretty easy crowd. We probably sounded terrible on some of our cover songs and people would be like, ‘You're better than the original band!'"
Now that Imagine Dragons is a Grammy-winning, multiplatinum rock act, there is genuine anticipation from fans for the new album. But even in their home base, the musicians aren't positive they'll even be recognized during the surprise set.
"We hope to be almost as popular as the guy dressed as a Transformer posing for pictures," says McKee, only half-joking.
Their personal fame has yet to catch up to the band's popularity, so the band can still walk the Strip and other parts of Vegas without much notice, they say without regret.
"I'm the singer, so if I go to the mall I probably get stopped a handful of times, but it's nothing like a crowd of people," Reynolds says with a laugh. "I'm at a point where I think every celebrity that doesn't sign everything must be a total asshole because I don't understand: 'Come on, man! Just sign a couple of things a day.' Maybe ask me in 10 years. But right now we're very happy with anonymity."