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With U2 on tour hiatus until 2011, no other group looks more poised to take over its biggest-band-in-the-world status than Muse, and the British trio proved its mettle with a mighty performance Saturday at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Muse has unofficially received that blessing anyway, opening some of U2’s stadium dates last year. Right now, what other band can summon such epic prowess and passion? Coldplay? Perhaps, but that group enchants more than thunders. Muse’s greatest songs — from storm-the-heavens anthems to melodramatic ballads — are last chances, gambles with fate, challenges to the gods.
Muse always sounded bigger than the theater-size places it first played in the U.S. while already filling much larger venues in Europe. America started to catch on a few years ago, and now the band is huge not just in sound but in appeal. This past week’s swing through Southern California included three arena dates — two weekend shows at Staples and one at the Honda Center of Anaheim — so the group could’ve just played a single stadium show like it did weeks ago at Wembley in London.
Employing a battery of video screens that at times looked like giant shards of glass, there were massive views of the band, provocative images that ranged from a DNA helix to anti-war footage, Technicolor nature scenes and more surreal eye candy. The lighting, which included the use of lasers — almost a nostalgic nod to the ’70s — was equally dazzling.
But those visuals never trumped the music, which always came first, a barrage of art and progressive, glam, hard rock, even heavy metal.
The band played on the large expanse of stage and also above it on risers that seemed to bring the trio of frontman guitarist-keyboardist Matthew Bellamy, bassist-keyboardist Christopher Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard even closer to the full house. This is a power trio, with power in boldface, assisted by longtime tour keyboardist Morgan Nicholls.
The set led off with the big-beat boom bounce of “Uprising,” followed by the racing defiance of the title track of the group’s current album “The Resistance,” its fifth studio set.
Bellamy’s Prince-like falsetto quivered over the metallic space funk of “Supermassive Black Hole,” and the group unleashed one of several sonic storms for the whipping whirlwind of “Hysteria.”
With Bellamy at piano, the band played the eclectic Brit card covering (as it has for several years) the slinky Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse number “Feeling Good,” dating to the 1964 musical “The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd,” a truthful slice of showbiz-success commentary, followed by the group’s own yearning power ballad “Guiding Light.”
Still Muse’s biggest hit across the board, the beaming throb of the cosmic “Starlight” brought the night’s loudest sing-along, especially for the refrain of “black holes and revelations” (which surely must have Professor Stephen Hawking smiling back at Cambridge).
The band followed with another winner in the snaking riff and rock ‘n’ roll abandon of “Plug in Baby,” then Bellamy strummed the recognizable opening of “House of the Rising Sun,” and the crowd spanning several generations started singing the lyrics as the tune gave way to the pulsing desperation and clutching, crying hope of “Time Is Running Out.”
Encore tunes included the overture from the group’s ambitious (and perhaps over-reaching) “Exogenesis: Symphony” and the more compact, galloping fantasy “Knights of Cydonia,” which closed the evening.
Sure, it’s easy to play the band-summit game with Muse: The Who meets Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, melded with Queen and even Emerson, Lake and Palmer for a galactic quest. True, those touchstones and others can be found in the band, but it arrived at its own distinctive sound and style during the 2000s, and some of today’s newest bands have described using Muse as a reference point.
Muse always has been built to last, and its steady ascendancy to arena and stadium level has come with shows that deliver much more then some pop flavor that’s here today and a footnote tomorrow. It’s a genuine concert experience.
At a time — again — when great rock doesn’t show up much in CHR/Top 40, Muse’s Staples performance was a reminder of how potent that experience can be in concert, really more than any other: uplifting, sweeping and far greater than a hit of the season or trend of the year.
Venue: Staples Center, Los Angeles (Saturday, Sept. 25)
Supermassive Black Hole
United States of Eurasia
Plug in Baby
Time Is Running Out
Exogenesis: Symphony, Part 1: Overture
Knights of Cydonia
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