At what point does a big band become too big? It’s a boundary that “stadium rockers” Muse are currently prodding with their latest round of arena concerts, having come a long way from their origins playing toilet venues around the country.
The Teignmouth three piece built themselves up from capable indie-rockers with an admittedly excellent debut album, via increasingly grandiose records and huge live sets, to be able to fill venues such as the Emirates stadium on successive evenings. They packed the Arsenal ground on Saturday night, heating the crowd up to 50 feet (at least) away with jets of flame from dominating, abstractly industrial chimneys.
With a three storey backdrop and a central stage section projecting to the half way line, the setup was extravagantly proportioned, and Matt, Dom and Chris had prepared a show to match, starting with the mock news intro of 2nd law to the Orwellian band doppelgangers of Uprising, the boys were a sight to see.
What started as another Muse extravaganza, pyrotechnics and all, with Supremacy and Supermassive Black Hole, sprinkled with older tunes such as Bliss, evolved into a performance of circus-like scope. Animals featured an actor caricaturing corrupt politicians and an air cannon full of fake money, while Blackout was presided over by a performer dangling suspended above the crowd from a giant lightbulb, and there was even a robot prowling the stage for 2nd Law: Unsustainable.
Although they were highly entertaining, these gimmicks detracted a little from the songs, drawing the eye of the predominantly late-30s, boozed up crowd away from the band towards the lights and the smoke and the glitter. And while in the more downtempo moments, such as Feeling Good and vintage piano heart-wrencher Unintended, Matt Bellamy managed to draw the crowd out of themselves (save for those too caught up in their own conversations to listen), his pieces to camera placed a barrier between the viewers and the objects on view. While it was good for those John Lennon saw as jewellery rattlers, it wasn’t so great for those in the cheap seats.
Muse seem to have stalled a little with their last couple of albums, and while tight performers as always, who have earned their live reputation and had everyone going with anthems such as New Born, Plug in Baby, and set closer Starlight, the newer material fell a little flat. It also might be construed as a little contradictory to be running a message about greed, corruption and sustainability while performing a 50 quid a pop (for those who didn’t have to get a scalper’s ticket through resale) gig with roaring flamethrowers and conspicuously over the top effects.
Fans should see it as a godsend if the band follow their own recent announcements and play a few smaller venues to celebrate their next big anniversary. It may keep out the moneyed spectators who are just looking for glamour, the “I was there” crowd.
The boys put on a good show, as they always will, but perhaps next time they can add a little more substance to back up their lashings of style.