Muse’s meteoric rise to success has been well documented here on mxdwn. By the time fans in America even became aware of the band when they released Absolution in 2003, they were already a sensation in Europe, filling arenas and stadiums. That far back, many casual listeners dubbed them as a Radiohead knock-off. Ten years later, Grammy nominations, Coachella headlining spots, a few well-placed spots on the Twilight Soundtrack and oh yeah, a four-year continually growing success behind their stunning album Black Hole and Revelations have finally netted them the type of success on our side of the pond they’ve enjoyed elsewhere for years. The group’s most recent album The 2nd Law is a curious experiment with dubstep electro (one not everyone seems to care for but we did). Haters aside, judging from the fully sold-out STAPLES Center crowd on Wednesday, January 23rd (the first of 3 sold-out LA shows) the fans are as enraptured as ever. In the USA, Muse has reached their “king in his court” moment.
Deceptively the show began with what looked like a modest stage configuration for Muse, instead of the lavish skyscrapers of previous tours the band seemed to be enclosed tightly in a circular space for new album cuts “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” and “Supremacy.” A tremolo-laden segue of “The Star Spangled Banner” was hammered out by lead singer/guitarist Matt Bellamy to set the stage for the bassline centered “Hysteria.” After that, their true visual spectacle was revealed. A giant upside down pyramid descended from the ceiling, each layer a 360 degree video wall capable of moving dynamically in real time to create other shifting polygonal shapes. The funkiest of the new tracks “Panic Station” followed led by Bellamy’s cooing falsetto and bassist Christopher Wolstenholme’s slapping melodic backbone. Fans that exited at Absolution would certainly be surprised. It’s more Peter Gabriel than anything else the band has ever done. Excellently, the band played cuts from as far back as their brilliant Origin of Symmetry, layering in “Bliss” and later on “Plug in Baby.”
Surprisingly, Black Holes and Revelations standouts “Supermassive Black Hole” and “Knights of Cydonia” followed shortly thereafter. The former was a sinister and sexy thumping number and the latter the definition of epic bombast. As with previous Muse tours, “Knights of Cydonia” is introduced via the equally epic dirge, Ennio Morricone’s “Man with a Harmonica,” before the opening chords stab out. A riser rose up to reveal a grand piano for an eagerly expected part of the band’s set. Bellamy, in addition to being a stellar vocalist and guitar player, also can play the shit out of classical piano lines. This show, the song used to demonstrate his chops was the somber ballad “Explorers.” The set from there escalated into a series of the band’s most impressive tricks.
“Time is Running Out” delivered on one of the band’s most crowd-pleasing songs, the whole crowd pumping fists in ecstatic glee. Wolstenholme took center front state to sublimely sing “Liquid State” while Bellamy happily took a ride on drummer Dominic Howard’s rotating drum riser. The almost entirely synth-based track “Madness”—featuring a soft sample of a processed “Ma ma ma ma mad mad madness” being spoken—layered on the honey for the night’s most honest and vulnerable love song. The Resistance track “Undisclosed Desires” played the most heavily with instrumentation and arrangement to eschew the confines of mere rock, reveling in its poetic lyricism and symphonic grandeur. The aforementioned Origin of Symmetry track “Plug in Baby” draws attention through a bizarre combination of impressive riffage and pristine driving energy. And lastly, a fake roulette wheel on the video array shows a ball drop down into a slot that reads: “Stockholm Syndrome.” For the uninitiated, the mere mention of it is enough to inspire sincere elation. The song itself is a freight train of rollicking, explosive hard rock. They even took time to staple on the finale to Rage Against the Machine’s “Freedom” to give it ever more of a powerful ending.
The two encores dropped in two of the band’s most beloved songs, the defiant “Uprising” and the heart-warming love song “Starlight,” book ended by the entirely instrumental “Isolated System” and the almost corny song produced for the Olympics, “Survival.” Thankfully, the almost self-parodying shortcomings of even “Survival” played stronger live than on record. The use of that song to end the night might be the single and only mistake in the whole show. Just about any other song that came before it rings true with the authenticity and power that made this band this famous. That said Muse wears the crown better than almost anyone. It’s rare that a performer seems uniquely bread and genetically ready to be so competent and engaging on such a large stage. Muse makes it look so easy it’s hard not to be daunted by their skill and precision. While we’ve been wondering if they deserved the shot Europe always bestowed upon them, they wasted no time and constantly improved on their abilities, quietly (and loudly) earning their place amidst the few true champions of rock in the modern age.
The Star-Spangled Banner + Hysteria
Supermassive Black Hole
Man with a Harmonica + Knights of Cydonia
Montpellier Jam + Explorers
Heartbreaker Riff + Time Is Running Out
Plug In Baby
Stockholm Syndrome + Freedom outro