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August 23, 2014

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In rise to prominence, Imagine Dragons prove they can pack — and take — a punch

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Harper Smith

Imagine Dragons are at once airborne and grounded as their new CD is set for September release.

Imagine Dragons -- on TV!

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Imagine Dragons on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."

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Las Vegas' Imagine Dragons at 94.1 FM's Bite of Las Vegas at Desert Breeze Skate Park on Oct. 15, 2011.

The time-honored rock adage is, always keep your eye on the bassist.

Maybe that is not an adage so much as an advised course of action. Tucked nondescriptly in the band’s rhythm section, the bass player keeps the rudder steady while the lead guitarist and vocalist bask in the spotlight.

But Ben McKee of Imagine Dragons is no such bassist. As a founding member of the Las Vegas-rooted rock band, which made its national TV debut Monday on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," McKee can get a little nutty.

Once in a while, McKee succumbs to rock-star behavior.

There was the Bergen International Festival in Norway, for instance. Imagine Dragons played the annual music and arts event last summer.

McKee, he really played.

“I thought it’d be fun to go out and kind of absorb some of the local spirits and drank some of this high-octane akavit,” McKee said during a phone interview last week before the “Tonight Show” appearance, where the band played the new single “It’s Time” from their upcoming album “Night Visions,” had been formally booked. “I woke up completely soaked in blood, with my head cracked open.”

In a “Hangover”-like episode, McKee had no vivid recollection of why he was bleeding. He did know that I.D. was committed to playing three sets that day. But whether he was cracked with a fist, a tire iron or a slab of Norwegian wood is impossible to say.

“I was walking around the festival and made contact with some of the people I’d been with the night before and started talking to them,” McKee said. “It started to come together.”

McKee had never been in a fight before, so in his akavit-ian state, decided that this night in Bergen provided an ideal opportunity.

“I was trying to find the biggest Norwegian guys and asking them to hit me,” McKee said. “Some people saw me get hit, but some didn’t see me get hit. I don’t know, but I had a concussion. I woke up before everybody else.”

The band played anyway because that’s how Imagine Dragons operates. Nothing interferes with the band’s craftsmanship.

“We lock ourselves in a room and make music,” McKee said. “We’ve spent the last three years on the road, songwriting, rehearsing and touring. We’re just driving from place to place, touring and making music, all the time.”

As a live act, Imagine Dragons surfaced in Las Vegas in the early summer of 2009. The band’s seedlings were planted at the since-closed Sinister Rock Bar on East Flamingo Road, which for a time was busy showcasing emerging Las Vegas rock bands. Imagine Dragons was booked on the night of June 6, locking in that engagement before it even had a full complement of songs ready for a live performance.

“We rehearsed that week and realized we didn’t have a full set worth of music, so we wrote a few more songs,” McKee said. “It was a heavy-metal night, and then us.”

Since, the band has changed its lineup, with original members Andrew and Brittany Tolman leaving in 2010 and drummer Daniel Platzman joining original members Dan Reynolds (rangy in voice and stature, as he is 6-foot-4), Wayne Sermon (lead guitarist) and McKee. They also are based in L.A. these days, though McKee says the band will always represent Las Vegas for its humble start and the fact that Reynolds is a third-generation Las Vegan.

“We grew up in Vegas,” McKee says. “We became the band we are in Vegas.”

The new CD is set for a Sept. 4 release. It's I.D.'s first full-length album, and the band likely has enough material stockpiled to record a dozen CDs. Regretfully, there are no Vegas dates on the Imagine Dragons schedule at the moment, with the band headlining the Awolnation Tour beginning in September just after the CD release.

“We’re still the same band we always were,” McKee says. “Life hasn’t changed much. We’re still doing what we love.”

Even if it means leading with your chin.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWithTheDish.

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