Muse are a band who want to redefine arena rock, or at least that seemed to be the case when the U.K. power trio brought their latest stage spectacle to KeyArena.
From the fist-pumping dubstep of show opener “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable,” to the finger-snapping fun of evening closer “Survival,” which was the official song of the 2012 London Olympics, Muse delivered an impressive show full of anthemic arena-rousers that carried fist-pumping, shout-along choruses.
Touring behind their sixth studio record, “The 2nd Law,” the band’s show is sensory overload in the best possible way. Muse ditches the cliched trappings of flash pots, flame towers and rote banter of “Insert city name here, are you ready to rock?” and replaces them with solid musicianship and dazzling visuals bold enough to match their massive stadium-filling rock.
A set of giant morphing video screens suspended above the band served as the stage’s visual centerpiece. For most of the show the screens were configured in an inverted pyramid shape. They ultimately ended up onstage as a right side up pyramid that swallowed the band at the end of the main set. Adding to the awe factor was a light show more potent than a Griswold family Christmas and enough smoke and lasers to make Rush jealous. When the video screens weren’t shifting shapes lasers filled the arena, and the show’s biggest moment, aside from the band-swallowing pyramid, came during “Madness” when the lasers and video screens were used in tandem.
For the song, singer and guitarist Matt Bellamy sported sunglasses with LEDs that flashed the song’s lyrics as he sang. While singing, he hammed to a fish-eye camera lens, which made him look like a modern-day version of Bono’s Fly persona from U2’s Zoo TV days. If you’re going to redefine arena rock, you could do worse than take a few moves from one of Dublin’s finest. Bellamy used every corner of the stage throughout the night, running around its horseshoed catwalk, sliding on his knees and shredding on guitar. His distinct guitar style, which owes a lot to effects pedals that assist him with his six-stringed acrobatics, is the backbone of most of the band’s finest songs, and seeing him in action adds another dimension to the band’s larger-than-life sound.
Many of the show’s more memorable numbers came courtesy material from “The 2nd Law,” speaking to the strength of that album. The retro Queen-meet-Peter Gabriel feel of “Panic Station” and “Liquid State,” which was sung by bassist Chris Wolstenholme, were two standouts. But Muse’s songs weren’t the only highlights. At the end of “Supermassive Black Hole” Bellamy added a cover of Nirvana’s “School” and “New Born” was capped with a cover of “Negative Creep.”
Like Nirvana, Muse are a three-piece, but live the group’s lineup is augmented with a multi-instrumentalist who mainly stuck to keyboards but also assisted with percussive subtleties like a shaker and tambourine. Having the fourth member onstage was necessary for just about every song in the setlist that came off an album released after 2003’s “Absolution,” which is when the band began to expand their sound. But having him chime in for the nuanced percussive bits seemed about as necessary as a banjo player in Metallica because they were mostly drowned out by Muse’s huge sound. Not being able to distinguish the minor pieces of percussion didn’t impact the live experience one bit, which made the contributions seem pointless.
Fellow U.K. trio Band of Skulls opened the night with a 45-minute set. Like Muse, their sound filled the arena, but Band of Skulls appeared to be more content playing the role of ardent garage rockers whereas Muse played as if they were gearing up for world domination.