Muse came with but one intention – to conquer; to slay all in their path. They proved that on the evening before they played Dublin’s 3Arena when they took on Cabinteely XI in Kilbogget Park, with the Chris Wolstenholme-led Muse football team beating the local side by a marginal 9-8. “We will be victorious” they promised on ‘Uprising’, and now seven albums in to a twenty year career, the Drones tour touches down with not one, but two victories for the Devon rockers – a minor one on the pitch, and a bombastic triumph in the arena.
Gone is any semblance of a traditional stage. In its place, dissecting the crowd along the length of the venue floor is a tripartite structure – a circular centre with a drumkit nucleus and two arms leading to auxiliary platforms either side. It provides a sense of inclusivity, an expanse for the band to traverse during the course of the set and an unmissable spectacle for all involved.
As the ambient Drones overture plays over the PA six large Perspex pods descend from the roof, slowly orbiting like sentient Spielbergian orbs until eventually they align with the walkway. Simultaneously, the guitar riff of ‘Psycho’ kicks in and Matt Bellamy and Wolstenholme rotate between the four mics onstage, encircling drummer Dominic Howard. More bizarrely placed in the set-up is Morgan Nicholls on keys and percussion, half submerged in the stage to Howard’s rear; part of the band, but…not. When the three stalwarts face each other during ‘Dead Inside’ it’s hard not to feel for him down there in his pit, back to the onstage action but providing the synth bedrock for a large chunk of the night.
Visually it’s a buffet for the eyeballs, as four large strips of gauze-like material drop either side of the rotating centre stage fulcrum to display some impressive visuals, not least the two huge 3D-like hands that appear to control Bellamy and Wolstenholme like marionettes from on high. The two guitarists head for the outer reaches of the platforms for ‘Time Is Running Out’. Physically it’s as removed as they’ve all been from one another all night, but musically they’re as tight as the snare drum that Howard punishes throughout the set. Despite the flamboyancy of Bellamy’s solos (and Morgan Nicholls tucked away behind the drumkit) this is a power trio of serious heft, and it’s on the more traditional powerhouse riffing that their rock muscle is flexed, AC/DC lite or not.
‘Starlight’, conversely, is stadium rock of the cheesiest AOR variety; U2 eat your arse out. Bellamy eschews guitar and shuts up to let the crowd roar the words, clapping his hands above his head while strolling the length of the walkways as giant white balloons are unleashed, each one popped to a confetti-filled cheer from a game-y crowd. Somehow then, and don’t ask us how, ‘The Globalist’ manages to transcend any such accusations.
More gauze screens descend to surround the stage with the band now behind a veil, and I shit you not, a small inflatable aircraft – a distant relative of Thunderbird 2 – benignly circumnavigates the venue before returning from whence it came. This is the lumbar puncture that Muse have been threatening all night. This is also the set at its most visually dazzling and all-enveloping, its most proggy and shamelessly pomp rock. It almost seems as if Howard’s kit has doubled in size over the song’s lengthy journey, but it’s just an illusion brought on by the gauze, and the panoramic piano and visuals…and good old fashioned wishful thinking. This is so beyond ridiculous, so beyond cynicism, that it’s only fantastic. Stonehenge be damned, scale model remote control spaceships are the present and future of rock’n’roll.
There’s no returning from this – not even with the lights, lasers, LEDs and strobes, not with the confetti cannons that fill the room during ‘Mercy’, not with the final no-nonsense rock-out of ‘Knights Of Cydonia’. ‘The Globalist’ is Muse’s death blow, the moment that turns a rock show into an event. Say what you will about the same-y nature of many of the songs, it doesn’t even matter…this ocular extravaganza had an inflatable spaceship.