See also: Slideshow of Muse w/ Band of Skulls
Better Than: A night at the opera, but not, like, A Night at the Opera.
In the world of arena rock, a band's primary challenge often lies in finding a balance between making a large enough spectacle to thrill all the way to the cheap seats, and the overwrought cheesiness that looks dumb to the folks up close. British trio Muse pulled it off last night at Staples Center, with tight but grand performance built upon their signature light-speed-stampede-through-outer-space sound and the sleek visual aesthetic to match. It was the best of modern arena rock, and it went like this:
8:15pm: The show begins with “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” from their 2012 release The 2nd Law. It is an apt opener, instantly creating a larger than life vibe and also reminding us that Muse messed around a bit with dubstep on this last album. This song sounds biblical, massive, frenzied. This is going to be awesome.
8:25pm: “Supremacy” sounds huge, ominous, threatening, like an updated take on U2's “Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me” fused with a glammed out James Bond theme song. Singer Matthew Bellamy's voice is everything it is on the album, maybe better. He sounds like Freddie Mercury.
8:36pm: A massive pyramid of LED panels descends from the ceiling.
8:40pm: The group tears into “Panic Station,” Muse's take on electro funk boogie. It's definitely a departure from their standard glam rock metal vibe, and may be the song that caused my most British friend to complain that “the new Muse album is terrrrrrrible” upon its release. He changed his mind, though, when the group stole the show during the closing ceremony of the Olympics with “Survival.” Something about Muse as a source of national pride. Anyways.
8:43pm: Fucking killer guitar shredding action!
8:48pm: The group dips back to their 2001 release Origin of Symmetry with the soaring “Bliss,” which is bombastically theatrical guitar rock in the tradition of Queen, more so than, say, the Stones or Zeppelin or other Brit rockers influenced largely by American blues.
8:50pm: Down on the floor, the fist pumping is becoming more abundant and well-synchronized.
8:53pm: The thematic content of most Muse songs share the same epic nature of their sound, with all the talk of supremacy, absolution, black holes, survival, resistance, etc.
8:57pm: What's really incredible is that just four guys — Bellamy, bassist Wolstenholme, drummer Dominic Howard and a keyboard player that sits in for live shows — can make a sound so big. And is it just me or does Bellamy kind of look like one of the vampires from Twilight? (Note: Post-show research finds that Bellamy's IMDB page contains credits for THREE of the Twilight films — Muse contributed to the soundtracks).
8:55pm: The visuals during “Animals” reflect on Wall Street greed, complete with a stock market ticker. “Why are they showing that? I don't like it. I don't want to think about the stock market right now,” says a woman behind me. This song feels like a lull, but maybe everyone has just become momentarily depressed about their finances.
8:59pm: “Knights of Cydonia” opens with a harmonica solo by Wolstenholme. And then it takes a massive 180 in about a second, lifting off into a driving 138 BPM epic sonic monster that peaks quickly as tens of thousands of us join for a singalong chorus, (“NO ONE'S GOING TO TAKE ME ALIVE”), before Bellamy rips into a headbanger guitar solo and holy fuck this is such a real deal rock show right now. FIST PUMP!
9:03pm: Token close up of the keyboard player.
9:07pm: Bellamy sits at a flashy grand piano, which just rose out of the floor, obviously, and plays the ballad “Explorers.” Just me or does this sounds have hints of “Don't Stop Me Now.” Anybody?
9:16pm: Mega-jam “Time is Running Out” inspires the loudest singalong of the evening as Bellamy races back and forth across the stage and Wolstenholme creates the song's signature ominous bass fuzz. These guys don't really improvise or play material all that differently from the way it sounds on the albums, but they rock so hard.
9:20pm: Wolstenholme comes front and center to do the vocals on “Liquid State.” His voice is the Noel Gallagher to Bellamy's Liam.
9:30pm: “This song is for my love,” Bellamy announces as the opening skip hop beat of recent radio hit “Madness” begins. He is presumably talking about his fiancé and baby mama Kate Hudson. This song is sweet and cool and why I am I crying right now?
9:35pm: “Follow Me” is full on astral prog rock and someone should do a remake of the Neverending Story so this jam can be the theme song.
9:38pm:Bellamy and his deliberately messy haircut go out into the crowd and shake hands with excited people who shove cell phones in his face.
9:40pm: A massive roulette wheel is projected on the LED panels and a ball drops, bouncing between “Stockholm Syndrome” and “New Born.” It lands on “Stockholm Syndrome,” so they play that.
9:45pm: For some reason drummer Dominic Howard is wearing a tight red body suit. He rages on that drum set, which sometimes spins. Baller.
9:50pm: The show closes with “Uprising,” after which thousands of people throughout the vastness of Staples turn on their cellphone flashlights. It looks like starlight.
9:52pm: So they comes back out and plays that. “Staples Center!” Bellamy yells, “It's happening!”
9:58pm: The band closes with “Survival” a theatrical showpiece with a relentless guitar rise that sounds, sorry to hard on this, more Queen than Queen. This is the pinnacle of massive, theatrical modern, large-scale rock music.
10:00pm: “We'll see you next time guys!” says Howard, making an exit from the stage and still wearing that tight, tight body suit. “Like, tomorrow!” Muse plays the Staples Center tonight and on Saturday, January 26.
Overhead in the Crowd: “That was like, whoa, like, I don't even have words for that. That was like…emotional.”
Personal Bias: I bought Absolution at a Virgin Megastore in 2003.
Random Notebook Dump: Is there anything better than the moment when someone on a jumbotron realizes that they're on a jumbotron?
Set list below
Star Spangled Banner
Supermassive Black Hole
Knights of Cydonia
Time is Running Out
Plug in Baby