A band like MUSE have come to tour with great expectations from their fans. The shows are big, bold and full of mind blowing visuals. It is not enough to pull a good ring of tracks that everyone loves anymore, the audience are expecting more, the real question is how would they match to them?
Before the main event, however, it’s the support. PHANTOGRAM, a two piece consisting of Joshua Carter and Sarah Barthel, with a wash through of electronic tunes. Barthel’s voice is soft and wistful, and while the music is in tune with MUSE’S own sound, there’s something missing from the performance. It’s important to mention, the stage is within the centre of the Arena, a circular centre with two arms extending out into the ground, and for a couple of people standing on stage without a huge amount of effects, that kind of domineering set up from the stage alone is hard to contend with. Matched with the fact everyone is really saving themselves for the main event, the response to this pleasant little mix of songs is fair. The majority of the crowd seemed to like the music, and the lighter edge to the beginning of the night might have been just what was needed.
It takes something special to make it worthwhile going to an Arena event. Often times the seats might be so far away the song ended a good minute before you hear it, else you are too high to see the event happening so far away. Not here. Some serious work has gone into this production, firstly with the intro with the huge egg shaped drones eerily and beautifully gliding over the crowd over the intro track Drones. The place roars as the band arrive, and as the lights flash, Reapers blasts into the room. A return to form for MUSE from their latest album, closer to their older material in the eyes of many, and instantly has the huge crowd captivated. Matt Bellamy and Chris Wolstenholme stand proud and confident, while Dominic Howard holds his position as the beating heart of the trio in centre stage.
Once the high energy entrance has ended, the Drill Sargent intro announces that Psycho is next up on the bill. A song loaded with political and social commentary, this is one of the stand out singles from the new album, catchy and mildly offensive, with a huge bass-line that contrast excellently with Bellamy’s falsetto voice. Shifting back to Plug In Baby, a favourite of fans from way back, that still holds itself as a fresh and interesting piece of music.
The song blends into Dead Inside, which feels as if it might have been from the same era of music. It’s impressive that music can be this complex, yet this universally reflective of the popular taste and general consensus. To balance a sound across decades, while keeping things feeling different and show distinction between phases is impressive, especially done at this scale.
Stockholm Syndrome is as potent and driven as always. For a band that have so many hits, they truly never seem to feel worn or over played at these shows. Perhaps it’s for the huge visual elements of the show itself, the ease in which the guys play and the commanding presence the song demands. By the songs end, after some ridiculous riffs and dramatic playing, Bellamy throws his guitar, and the lights fade. It’s the oldest trick in the book, but the reception is fair, and the rock and roll mystique carried through into the black.
The beautiful The 2nd Law: Isolated System tinkles and rises throughout the Arena, a dark but far less aggressive piece of music than that which came before. Switching between the hard hitting and the more subdued and contemplative is always a wise move at a gig this big, and this comes just at the right moment.
So many highlights came from this show, but one that seemed to be on everyone’s mind when the event was over was The Handler. Projected on the expanse of the screens of a robot, cold eyed and heartless, puppeteering Bellamy and Wolstenholme on either side of the stage as they played. Incredible piece of showmanship, or audio visual work, and of course musical awesomeness. It was sublime and a truly astonishing thing to behold. Supermassive Black Hole, yet again a huge hit and well known by all, as the congregation takes over the chorus and the standing lot bounce. Many regard Arena events as something of a cop out, but as the stage rotates, as the two guitar players’ swagger up and down the arms. Starlight, while a more romantic and less charged is still a bit of a crowd pleaser, more so because of the release of giant, white balloons, all of which Wolstenholme pops on the end of his bass, to the cries and cheers of all. It’s a little bit of fun in this otherwise serious, yet spectacular show. Citizen Erased is still brilliant, and the light show heightens the whole thing. This show is like a well-oiled machine, as if it’s been meticulously scheduled to such precision, the entire effort to seem effortless just works. You forget that this is a massive team effort, that this doesn’t just happen.
Again, the vocals are put aside for a moment, while Howard and Wolstenholme beat through Munch Jam, one of the best pieces of pure music of the evening, proving that every member of this band is just as competent on their own as together. Straight into the next song without so much as a word, Madness opens and once again the amazing light show, the incredible visuals and the joy of the collective watching. Not the strongest song of the evening, but still very enjoyable nonetheless.
Resistance blooms next, followed soon after by Revolt. There is very little to say about pairing these two songs. This just seems right. By this point in the evening, it feels as if nothing could impressive more than what went before, but MUSE keep pulling it out of the bag. Some might have thought that a second night at Manchester might have been a repeat of the previous show at the venue, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. No one in that room would say that this was a money grab or a half-baked second night. This is further demonstrated by that well known song Time Is Running Out still keeping everyone entertained and in great spirits. Oddly enough, not much movement between those in the seats was commented on at this point in the evening. However, rather than people loosing themselves to the music, as is often the case at the large-scale concerts MUSE puts on, this feels more like an appreciation from all for what is going on around them. Dancing around, you could easily miss some spectacular display that you would regret.
Next up we are treated to Uprising, which as always felt like if a Doctor Who Theme decided to get a little socio-political is once again a staggering performance from the boys and from the entire craft of lights and effects coming from the stages. Another new song from Drones is The Globalist. It isn’t the strongest start for a song, but the roots of this one are still very much in who MUSE are as a band. Thick bass-lines and rising vocals, thudding drums that still manage to dominate, before sinking back into more piano and gloriously ostentatious projections of cityscapes across a now stage wide row of screens. Simply put, it’s stunning.
There might have been a fractionally longer pause for the encore, but it truly felt as if the concert just carried on through into the final act of the night. Mercy, a song that appears to be something of a Marmite tune to fans from the new album, has become something of a grower and the reception to this is still pretty good. It’s been a long night, and with so much to take in, it’s hard to keep the full height of the energy up for the crowd. The guys do it one more time, however, and blare into Knights of Cydonia, which is just magic. There’s canons of confetti, a huge bomber plane, drones, an a washout of light. And then it’s over.
So much crammed into a two hour gap, it doesn’t seem possible for it to feel both a draining experience, and yet still want more of it. Yes, for those wondering if they should be podding out the high prices for a MUSE gig, it would seem from the sheer effort and class of the performance, not just from the band but the whole production team, is more than worth it.