Muse at Staples Center: Concert Review
(Wednesday, Jan. 23)
During the first of three shows at Los Angeles’ Staples Center, U.K. rock band Muse captivated the audience equally with its dynamic musical performance and an impressively extensive light show that continually transformed the stage with an array of moving video screens. Although Muse’s live shows are not necessarily contingent on anything but surging renditions of their beloved albums, the band seems aware that an innovative and compelling visual component is what can ascend a rock group to the next level -- particularly when they tour arenas.
In essence the stage set was simple: Screens surrounded the edge of the stage like a video “bowl” and lined front of the stage as well as Dominic Howard’s elevated drum kit. As the show opened with “Unsustainable” (also known as that dub-step song they did on recent album The 2nd Law), the screens – relegated at this point to the lower portion of the stage – filled with the footage from the track’s music video, offering the effect of an eventual future where the world around us is so replete with screens that we are always surrounded. And that could have been enough. But after an urgent rendition of “Hysteria,” from 2003’s Absolution, an inverted pyramid composed of more screens descended from the stage ceiling like a spaceship.
Throughout the nearly two-hour show, Muse employed these screens to imaginative effect, each song receiving an appropriate visual esthetic that was mixed with live footage of the performance. During “Animals,” the lower screens transformed into a massive stock market ticker that accelerated and evolved from mostly green to all red as the song expanded and reached its riff-heavy height. Later the pyramid became a giant roulette wheel, spinning and unleashing the selection of the next song -- “Stockholm Syndrome” -- on the screens below.
The band members, particularly frontman Matt Bellamy, continually engaged with the technology they’d wrought. During “Madness,” the flagship single from The 2nd Law, which Bellamy announced “is for my love” (meaning actress Kate Hudson), the singer donned a pair of video glasses, allowing one of the cameras to swoop in for an extreme close-up that revealed the song’s lyrics on the larger screens. The band’s interaction with the audience, however, was slighter. Bellamy, who did lead the crowd through sing-alongs during “Time Is Running Out” and encore number “Starlight,” said very little -- and the few terse comments he did make were almost unintelligible through his accent (there may have been something said about a homecoming to L.A.).
Muse always has revealed a fascination with technology and science and how these ideas will transform our future. The 2nd Law, as showcased on such tracks as “Unsustainable” and “Isolated System,” centers on a scientific theory of energy. Bellamy has said he would like the band’s live show to employ an actual spaceship (and has offered interest in playing a show in space), and the band members continue to perform with custom instruments that light up and respond to the played notes. The group’s music alone divulges these predilections, lyrically and tonally, but it seems that the band, whose live show always has been impressive, finally has nailed down the best means of -- literally -- reflecting those notions visually onstage with this video and light production. If this overwhelming wall of screens predicts our future, at least Muse will be the soundtrack.
Muse returns to Staples Center on Thursday and Saturday. The band’s North American tour continues through April 26.
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