Muse @ Acer Arena, Sydney (9/12/10)
There are people, quite a large, vocal number of people, who don’t like Muse. In a way, I sort of wish that the few remaining seats at the trio’s massive stadium gig would have been reserved exclusively for them, because it is literally impossible to argue with a show this entertaining, exhilarating and professional. Having interviewed drummer Dom Howard a few weeks prior, I had a vague idea of the kind of spectacle the UK band would be bringing down under but nothing, not words, pictures or YouTube videos shot on iPhones, can adequately prepare one for a Muse show. Rotating skyscrapers with intricate projections beamed from inside, lasers dotting the nosebleed section with cosmic patterns, shining silver suits , enough End Of The World art direction to make it seem like Pink Floyd never happened…and that’s just the first song.
Make no mistake, Muse are a rock band who know how to put on a rock show. Their gimmicks, wonderful and exciting as they are, are merely a backdrop to this top-notch group of musicians who, having criss-crossed the globe about as many times as Richard Branson, are finally learning to enjoy themselves. It’s that attitude that sees them pull out the pre-millennium classic Sunburn on a grand piano sitting three metres above ground, get their Daft Punk sampling on for Undisclosed Desires and break into post-song-jamming at every opportunity they get. After all, if you’re going to be one of the biggest bands on the planet, you may as well act like a band. Though Matt Bellamy and his co-pilots rarely talk to each other – they are on separate towers after all – the chemistry is palpable. You can feel it more on the heavier tracks, particularly the relentless Stockholm Syndrome and the groovier ones, like Supermassive Black Hole. Though their new material is starting to become a bit same-y, the Muse classics (and they really are classics by now) stick out like a sore thumb in their chosen field. There’s nothing else like Plug In Baby or New Born coming out these days, and Muse don’t let you forget it. All this makes them a real treat to see live.
It’s not good journalistic practise to focus attention more on a frontman, particularly when the band behind him is so good, but Bellamy doesn’t really give punters much of an option. The diminutive musical prodigy is everywhere; running up ramps, sliding down on his knees to perform solos for the audience members sitting behind the stage, using his reflective amp as a beacon and generally commanding far more attention than one would expect from a man widely reported to be an introvert. What Bellamy does have that cannot be denied is one of the most consistently phenomenal voices in rock music. The high notes that he hits, especially while playing complex licks underneath on either piano or guitar, are simply breathtaking. That he does this night after night is a testament to the fact that as grandioise as their material may be, Muse remain fundamentally a killer live band. You only have to watch the oscillating, left-handed syncopation of Howard for proof.
As every new album drops, there will be less material from Origin Of Symmetry and soon, Absolution, too. While that is regrettable, it’s also a fact of life; many of the fans who have been in the moshpit since 6pm are too young to remember either of those albums. That doesn’t matter they won’t go home and discover them later. It just means Muse lean heavily on recent material and work harder to make it fit with the old. They do this with considerable aplomb, and soon the difference between Time Is Running Out and one of the Exogenesis symphonies doesn’t really matter all that much. That’s cemented by the Knights Of Cydonia encore, an innately bizarre song but oh-so-fitting at the same time.
Muse will always straddle the divide between cool and geeky, no matter how many times their songs are used in vampire movies. As we leave the stadium reeling, the one name that emerges in conversations all around us is that of the late Freddie Mercury’s. Certainly Muse have put on a glam show worthy of comparison to their countrymen, Queen. And Bellamy, with his shining falsetto, guitar solos and even shinier pants, could well be the man’s natural successor. We’ll probably find that out for certain on the next Muse tour, which one has little doubt will be on the moon.