Even though I consider Muse one of my favorite bands, I have written very little about them over the years. The majority of the 6 times I have seen them perform took place far away from DC and therefore the majority of their shows did not end up reviewed on any of the DC sites I write for. It is fitting that Monday night’s show at George Mason University’s Patriot Center is the one to finally get a feature review out of me. Fitting because it was without question the best performance of theirs that I have seen. Fitting too because I have followed this band since they first washed up on American shores and have witnessed their progression as a live act. Over the seven years or so they’ve been touring here, Muse have not so much shown an evolution as performers as they have consistently demonstrated their massive power as a live act; an act so huge that whatever stage I saw them on seemed tiny in comparison to their unbridled, power-pop fury. With each tour, each stage got a little larger, and Muse seemed one step closer to realizing their master plan of becoming the best live band on the planet. Having seen them on Monday night, I think it is safe to say that they have finally realized that master plan.
The last time Muse played the Patriot Center was for the “Black-holes and Revelations” tour and I recall thinking that show was Muse finally getting the large venue they deserved. The band did not disappoint in raising their showmanship to new levels with an incredible visual display to match their monster sound. But I also recall being less impressed with their musicianship that night. While I greatly enjoyed the show, I did think it was the loosest musically that I had ever seen Muse play. I have since been blaming it on the sound at the Patriot Center and I had some reservations about seeing Muse play there again. I almost went out of town to see this tour. I am glad I did not.
Muse on Monday night was epic. Touring to support their latest album “The Resistance” (an insane, fight the dystopia, rock-opera) Muse brought one of the best top-to-bottom live shows I have ever seen. There were points during the show that had me questioning my sanity. The show was “am I losing my mind?” good. Seriously.
Visually the show was fantastic. From the moment the band was unveiled (each member appearing atop their own 30 foot platform from behind three collapsing skyscrapers) to the amazing use of digital-screen wrapped elevator-action, to the sick re-introduction of high-powered green lasers to the concert-going popular consciousness, through to the spinning mid-air drum-kit, piano-key light triggers, all the way down to Matt Bellamy’s good ol’ shiny, silver guitar the show never ceased dazzling the crowd with its inventive use of classic arena-rock gimmicks and new millennial lighting and digital tech. I have seen a lot of spectacle over the years (Trent Reznor, I am looking at you) but Muse on Monday night brought such a perfect blend of old and new that I found it exhilarating in a way that was unlike any other massively produced show I have ever seen.
Musically the band was on point, bringing the house down with their blend of muscular guitar pop, piano mini-concerto, and Matt Bellamy’s alien operatics. Bellamy was in a form vocally and musically that was truly awe-inspiring. The man is in his element on a huge stage, in a silver outfit with glowing purple sunglasses, whaling on a guitar, while giving Freddie Mercury a run for his money on vocal range. Bellamy has always impressed, but on Monday night we were watching the man bloom. His vocals on songs like ‘Guiding Light’ and ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ were perfect, but it was on the surprise performance of ‘Exogenesis: Symphony, Part One: Overture’ that I found myself wondering if Bellamy is even from this planet. Ten minutes later, he confirmed that he is in fact an alien with his inhuman, falsetto opening to ‘Knights of Cydonia’. If he were only a vocalist Matt Bellamy would still be considered one of pop’s greatest, it is simply genius that he can also play virtuoso guitar and piano. There were so many guitar highlights on Monday it is difficult to list them, so I’ll go with the ‘New Born’ and ‘Hysteria’ solos. On piano Bellamy shined brightest when playing the rarely performed Muse cover of ‘Feelin’ Good’. Wolstenholme and Howard had their moments in the sun as well, particularly on the awesome spinning, drum-kit “Helsinki jam”.
The greatest moment of the night for me personally was their introduction to ‘Knights of Cydonia’. I had heard that lately Muse introduces that song with Wolstenholme on harmonica; befitting the song’s Spaghetti Western influence. What I did not know was just what Wolstenholme plays on that harmonica. I don’t know how many people at Monday’s Muse show were Ennio Morricone fans or would even recognize his composition from “Once Upon A Time In The West” called “Man With A Harmonica” but that is what Wolstenholme played. Not only did he play the opening bars of ‘Man With A Harmonica’ but the band soon joined in and they played just about the whole damn theme! For me it was the transcendent moment in a night full of transcendence. Ennio Morricone is a hero of mine. Perhaps the most special concert I have ever been to was his only U.S. concert in history at Radio City Music Hall. To hear Morricone’s incredible composition being played by Muse, a pop band who all night had proved their live band global dominance was too much for this music fan’s brain to compute. Just as I completely lost my mind, Muse slammed into an insane rendition of their tune ‘Knights of Cydonia’ and put the seal on the night.
For me the entire show was music nirvana. Total, maximum, transporting entertainment. With each new visual element unleashed and each bit of the set-list revealed, I was totally thrilled to be at this show and I could not imagine wanting to be anywhere else. Muse have been called the “Best Live Band on the Planet” for a few years now and I have never completely agreed – until now.