[For many more exclusive photos of the show, see Timothy Norris' slideshow "Muse @ Staples Center"]
Walking into Staples Center right before the Brit trio Muse hit the stage, there was little sense of urgency or the usual whooping anticipation for a show of this scale. Maybe many in attendance had been in this same dome the night before (when Muse played a very similar set) and bellowed some of the bloom off their enthusiasm.
Either way, Muse delivered an utterly professional, largely choreographed set that straddled the last four of their five albums to date, plus "Neutron Star Collision (Love Is Forever)" from The Twilight Saga: Eclipse soundtrack, old instrumental b-side "Nishe" (from 1999's "Unintended" single), and the so-called "Helsinki Jam" bass-and-drums workout.
So slick was the whole production - hydraulic towers, rotating drum set, giant bouncing-across-the-crowd "eyes" and all - that the marvelously Spinal Tap opening, when the gauzy shroud over bass player Chris Wolstenholme's lofty perch failed to drop on cue (despite roadies' frantic tugs), was as welcome as it was comical.
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Glitch over, Muse beat us over the head with the one-two punch of recent hits "Uprising" and "Resistance" (both from last year's The Resistance), then proceeded through songs that, devoid of studio production, began to sound surprisingly samey (despite the presence of touring multi-instrumentalist Morgan Nicholls).
There were moments of semi-spontaneity -- the tortured "Star Spangled Banner" intro to "Hysteria" and a strolling "House of the Rising Sun" to usher-in "Time Is Running Out" -- but overall this was state-of-the-art stadium rock done right. And almost without exception, the sold-out crowd sang-along lustily.
While Muse drummer Dominic Howard is wonderfully deft behind the kit and personable on the mic, and Wolstenholme more than pulls his weight, any Muse show is largely about singer/guitarist/chief songwriter Matthew Bellamy. In "I'm over here!" silver lamé suit, Bellamy delivered both prodigious proggy guitar chops and falsetto-flecked, borderline choirboy vocals with the ambling gait of a man who's apparently performing well within himself.
Few bands truly make Staples Center their own (U2 and Depeche Mode being notable exceptions). Muse made a decent and good natured fist of projecting their gorgeously deranged, ambitious creations in the type of soulless über-shed which their (thoroughly justified) through-the-roof album sales oblige them to play. Closing the night with career highpoint "Knights of Cydonia" reminded just what Muse are capable of - and why we should savor them while we can.