We last saw Muse live October 30, 2000. It was a stunning show from the then fresh-faced three-piece. No fancy visuals, laser shows or equipment, but by god did they pack their piss and vinegar that night – the set culminated with Matt Bellamy on all fours ripping the strings off his very-bruised plug in baby.
Things have changed. Muse are now one of the world’s apex rock acts. A guaranteed good night out in an industry that doesn’t do guarantees. Their cerebral arrangements charm classical buffs and dadrockers, yet they have the bite and bile to speak with Generation X.
Examining the stage before kick off, it’s not immediately clear what Muse have in store. Three skyscrapers stand before us. In front are two mic stands. No kit, no keyboards, no guitar racks to be seen. Then suddenly, everything is alive and the triplet towers are depicting images of silhouetted men traipsing up a stairwell before finally tumbling down. The huge pillars open up revealing a band member in each and the slinky glam stomp of -Uprising’, a highlight from new album The Resistance, is throbbing out. For introductions, it doesn’t get more thrilling than that.
And then it does. -New Born”s mischievous intro melody brings the O2 properly to the boil. Bellamy is on his knees right up the front, writhing in those few fizzy seconds before that wonderous riff is peeled off. Webs of green lasers hop about in time with Chris Wolstenholme’s elastic bassline. The towers flash white every second bar of the verse. State no longer feels so bad about never having seen Pink Floyd live.
That, by the way, was three tracks into the set, and it never seemed to let up. Even the gentle picking of -Unintended’ was like an event in itself. Showmanship is not something that can really be taught, but Bellamy could probably have a go if the tunes dry up. Unlikely as this is to happen, the diminutive guitar and piano prodigy is a natural performer, possessed by some rock -n’ roll demon. He prowled around the stage, half punk brat, half rock god, hamming it up during the guitar hero moments – a barnstorming -Plug In Baby’ comes to mind – and attending to the audience on the far left and right of the stage. It’s enough to put a grin on any red-blooded person’s face.
Marc Carolan, Muse’s chief live sound engineer, once told me that the band reinvest huge sums of money into their live shows, ensuring that the very best equipment is sought out. It’s hard to see how they can improve from here, but then again, this was never a trio to underestimate when it came to breaking new ground. A strong contender for gig of the year.
Photo by Julie Bienvenu.