All the earmarks were there: the pyrotechnics, the soaring vocals, the guitar solos, the Coheed and Cambria t-shirts, guy-liner. If you didn’t know better, you might think you were at some kind of goth, prog metal show. Look at the crowd full of music geeks and fortysomethings, the same group you might have seen at a Rush show a decade ago. Also present, the captivating musicianship and magical rock showmanship of English band Muse makes it feel like a throwback to when rock shows still ruled the world.
Streamers and confetti rained down on fans inside the Toyota Center as Muse spent nearly two hours tearing through an energetic set of balls-out rockers and surprising artistic asides.
Opening was Evanescence, fronted by female vocalist Amy Lee, who at age 41 still brings the heat with her voice — broadway pipes belting out angsty, heartbroken songs about love and loss, including hits like “My Immortal” and “Bring Me to Life”. ,” both from their massive first album Fell.
Muse was, frankly, surprising. Everyone knows their well-crafted brand of arena rock is well suited for…well, arenas. But the extent to which they took license to go well outside the usual fist-pounding hard rock was fascinating. At one point I thought to myself, “This is a loyal audience if the singer can walk around the stage in one Throne outfit playing a small digital keyboard attached to his arm and still retain their rapt attention.”
This has always been a group of intensely skilled musicians playing a kind of digitized, guitar-driven hard rock with Radiohead-esque vocal flourishes and Rage Against the Machine messages all on full display. The latter was delivered via a series of videos that played during songs, interludes and breaks. As far as I could tell, this giant demon killed a guy dressed as Daft Punk and it pissed people off so much they started dressing like Daft Punk and killed their demon overlords, or tried? It was a bit confusing to be honest.
It was like Crazy Max, The matrix and what I always imagined could happen if Daft Punk actually played at LCD Soundsystem’s house like in that song. The videos were supported by a pair of massive constructions – first a moving metallic face and finally a giant inflated devil – on stage behind the band. The scale was, dare we say it, super massive.
Ultimately, with all the theatrics, this was still a rock show, and that’s still where Muse absolutely shines. It was songs from their new record The will of the people such as the synth-heavy “Compliance” and the downright heavy “Won’t Back Down”. But they mixed in many classics like “Hysteria”, “Time is Running Out”, “Madness” and, of course, “Uprising”, “Starlight” and Dusk soundtrack favorite “Supermassive Black Hole.”
Guitarist, singer and charismatic frontman Matt Bellamy spent most of the night prowling the stage (including a long gangplank that extended well into the crowd on the floor), switching instruments and thoroughly engaging a raucous crowd with his full throat. But it was bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard who did most of the musical heavy lifting (along with sideman Dan Lancaster). It’s one of the best rhythm sections in music and it was evident from beat one.
It’s rare in today’s music world to see what really amounts to a three-piece band that absolutely blows the doors off an arena with exceptionally loud rock and roll delivered with insane precision. The last time I can remember seeing something like that was the Foo Fighters. With that band on hiatus following the tragic death of drummer Taylor Hawkins, Muse may be, pound for pound, the best rock band in the world.
They closed the set with “Knights of Cydonia” from the 2006 album Black holes and revelations. The six-minute song about, what else, struggling to survive in what I assume is a dystopian hellscape found fans still singing and pumping their fists in the air in defiance of the giant inflatable demon on stage. Like the rest of the night, it was dramatic, engaging, a little goofy, and it warmed my little prog rock heart.
The will of the people
Won’t stand down
Time is running out
We’re fucking fucked
Dark Side Alt Reality
Supermassive black hole
Plug in baby
See the glove
Forge theory theme
Kill or be killed
The Knights of Cydonia