What is there left to say about Muse? Over-the-top? Check. Compared often to Queen and Radiohead? Undoubtedly. In a league of their own? Definitely. But with each new tour – this one is to promote their chart-topping sixth LP, The 2nd Law – it’s always fascinating to see how the Teignmouth trio can outdo themselves.
The set-up for this show unsurprisingly looks like it cost a small fortune. Amongst the myriad of lights and lasers, a runway circles the entire stage. There’s a rotating drumkit and an inverted pyramid structure that swallows up the band. On paper, it’s the kind of thing that sets off alarm bells and conjures horrific visions of the worst levels of excess during the ’80s stadium rock era. Or Spinal Tap. Most astonishingly, when put into practice, it’s profoundly entertaining.
Part of the reason why this is so is quite how far it can all veer towards total silliness without going too far. The band’s collective tongue is firmly in cheek. Visuals range from drummer Dominic Howard kung-fu kicking some shadowy-looking people to aliens in bright green boxer shorts doing a jig to the INXS-meets-Prince funk fest of Panic Station. It’s hard to imagine The Killers or Mumford & Sons being this goofy.
And there may well be more to it than humorous images and blinding lights. For arguably the first time since they started taking on the challenges of arenas and stadiums all those years ago, Muse have finally reached a point in their career where they look confident and comfortable in their surroundings. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the behaviour of Matt Bellamy. For so long he’s come across as the nerdy grown-up who looked lost in his own world of infinite guitar pedals and endless riffing. But he’s grown into the role of showman. Follow Me and Undisclosed Desires are his best opportunities to prove that he is the ‘Rock God’ that many in the front row are willing him to be. In truth, it’s slightly awkward at times but, given how much fun he’s having just simply trying, you’re willing to go with it.
For those who find this brave new galaxy a bit difficult to stomach, there were also moments that satisfied the long-time fans who couldn’t possibly have foreseen the way Muse’s career has managed to shoot towards mega stardom. New Born and Plug In Baby, both from breakthrough album Origin Of Symmetry, are both rapturously received and even a performance of Falling Down from their 1999 debut Showbiz, a song seldom seen in the band’s setlist for at least a decade, sounds lush under a fresh piano ballad guise.
This isn’t a faultless show by any stretch of the imagination. Explorers, which has some unfortunate similarities to Everybody’s Changing by Keane, sounds laboured and dull, whilst Olympics anthem Survival doesn’t sound anywhere near as explosive or bafflingly off the wall as its studio incarnation. But for every failure, there’s a triumphant Knights Of Cydonia or a cabasa-propelled (yes, seriously) Supermassive Black Hole waiting in the wings. Seeing 18,000 people jumping and singing along to this epic slice of gloriously overblown rock is enough to make even the hardened cynic smile. One question remains though: how in the universe will they try to better this for their inevitable stadium appearances next year?