To screams, the three-piece that is Muse opened the first of their two massive, overblown and absolutely sold-out Earl’s Court gigs. Opening with Hysteria, it was immediately clear that Absolution, Muse’s crucial third album, was for them just as important as OK Computer was for Radiohead. The ensuing evening of spectacular operatic metal was to serve as a declaration of Matt Bellamy’s absolute genius.
Muse is Matt Bellamy and he is Muse. A rhythm section exists too, consisting of bass and drums, but Bellamy does everything else – supremely. His piano skills are as flamboyant as a latter-day Ravel, but with his fetching red coat he rather calls Liberace to mind when tinkling the ivories. But then he’s playing guitar as well as Metallica‘s Kirk Hammett or hamming up his angsty vocals with all the showmanship of Freddie Mercury. He’s quite a package. He struts his serious way through three, four, five songs with scarcely a break for breath between. There are no jokey asides with the audience; just music, music and more music.
It’s an indication of the sustained intensity of this set that recent single Time Is Running Out fails to stand out from the set in quite the way it does when compared to singles by lesser mortals released at the time it was. The set instead is one angst-ridden crescendo after another, punctuated with Matt throwing a guitar at the audience, all of it executed with awe-inspiring technical brilliance and poise. And just when we’ve had our fill of wailing crescendos, Matt gets going on his wacky synth for a slower number.
Ruled By Secrecy, with Earl’s Court’s screens offering the audience singalong words, is a welcome pause for breath in amongst all the rock. The synth’s keys are linked to lights – giving the stage a surreal, Close Encounters feel as we see which notes are played. He plays quite a few at the same time, too.
Almost trademarks of the Muse live experience now, balloons were released upon the audience towards the end, underlining that Muse have a frivolous side somewhere to the left of all the serious rock noise. And these are not just the lovely standard sized purple numbers picked up and treasured by many in the audience, but gigantic clear globules filled with paper and little balloons too. By this point, everyone’s smiling. So much for angst.
Finally for the encore Bellamy loses the coat – but he’s not done showing off his virtuoso music skills. He darts behind a bank of amps and starts twiddling buttons and wires to create new sounds from feedback. As jets shoot out smoke and paper, balloons wave and burst and the audience screeches its collective approval, Muse leave the stage of 2004 considerably bigger than when they stepped upon it.