With a pack of friends, including Mirage and Belladonna, I headed to Madison Square Garden to see Muse live (Friday, 5 March 2010). Now I have seen Muse (Matthew Bellamy, Dominic Howard, and Christopher Wolstenholme) live on various occasions and in different venues/formats, from the CMJ Music Marathon to the Cure’s Curiosa Festival, from the Hammerstein Ballroom to this venue, Madison Square Garden, in the past. I have seen them as a three-man piece without backing tracks, a three-man piece with backing tracks, and now with a fourth touring member (Morgan Nicholls) on keys, and still some backing tracks. And, I have heard the entire buzz about this tour, admittedly seen the YouTube clips, and had friends give me their two cents. The fact of the matter is this: nothing can prepare you for what you experience at this show.
Silversun Pickup was the opening band, and more than once thanked Muse for the opportunity. Moreover, they had more access to the full range of the light show than most opening bands are given. Overall, a good performance, great really, considering the pressure that any artist has to be under knowing they are sharing the stage with Muse.
Then Muse hit the stage, as the three towers (hidden LCD screens) took the form of skyscrapers of sort. The opening imagery during “We Are the World” was a bit disturbing to me. Eventually, within these towers were little figures of people walking up stairs, like if they were being herded, and then they seemed to be jumping and/or falling out of the tower. I am not sure what Muse was thinking, but considering the history of New York City, this was a bit disturbing. This is not to say that I believe that Muse was alluding to the World Trade Center – far from it, considering the band’s politics and history that is something they would never condone – but if anyone else was a bit disturbed, I completely understand. Then they went right into “Uprising,” standing midway through the towers, both extremes of the towers still projected images. And what you realized immediately is that Muse upped the ante from now on! This was not your conventional rock concert: this was a show. Audiences were inundated with imagery and a light show that made any other past visuals I have experienced seem trite and minute. This was a technical masterpiece, but for all the imagery and lighting, the music was always center stage. It is sometimes hard for musicians to put on a “spectacle” and not get lost within it. Muse, however, was never lost; far from it, the visual only enhanced the music.
A+ for Muse not being chatty! They pushed right through “Uprising” and “Resistance,” and when the opening notes of “New Born” started to play, the diehard fans were heard clearly. By this time, the lower half of the “towers” hand sunken, bringing the band to the stage level. The stage was backless, with multiple mic stands scattered around, allowing Bellamy and Wolstenholme to perform while being able to choose what part of the audience they wanted to perform/sing to; Howard’s drum platform revolved as well. The point is even the people behind the stage got more than LCD screens, Muse performed directly to them as well.
Some highlights: “United States of Eurasia” performed with Bellamy at the piano. “Exogenesis: Symphony Part I (The Overture)” ushering in the first encore. The amazing light show for “New Born” and “Undisclosed Desires.” Let me repeat that, the amazing light show for “New Born” and “Undisclosed Desires.” And the crowd being in tune with the band was simply amazing as well. As for the crowd, it was the most diverse audience I have ever had the pleasure to be part of. Racially, age, gender… you name it, it was all there, and this speaks to Muse’s incredible talent to write music that is universal and about shared human experiences. And this cannot be said about all artists.
Now, with all that said, I am going to risk the possibility of having some diehard Muse fans track me down! America is getting shafted! European, Australian, and Asian dates have seen a more varied selection of songs. The set list below pretty much sums up all the songs that Muse has played in the USA thus far, and on this date (like the previous few) not a single song from “Showbiz” made the set list; though maybe Muse may have tired of the songs, we fans have not. Just to see “Cave” performed on a piano would have been worth the entire ticket price! Other than “Cave,” other concerts have seen songs like “Sunburn,” “Bliss,” “Citizen Erased,” and “Butterflies and Hurricanes” – and there seems to be no attempt to rotate these songs – classics! – into the set. Perhaps this occurs because the show is very technical, or maybe because they are playing their first American arena tour very safe, but I would like to have had known that the show I was at was at least partially different than most of the other shows in the USA by the selection of songs.
Nevertheless, though the visuals of the closing song, “Knights of Cydonia,” fell a bit flat compared to the songs of the first set, this was a great concert, an amazing show, and will definitely rank as one of the five best tours I have ever been to. If I have said this once, I have said this countless of times (and will continue to): Matthew Bellamy is the most talented individual in the music industry. And together with the other members of Muse, there yet seems to be no limit to what they can do musically. The best part of it is that they have gotten this far without kissing the arse of conventionality or compromising their craftsmanship or convictions for commercial success. Now I am thinking I have to plan a vacation later this year to catch what Muse is going to pull off at their stadiums shows later this summer in Europe.
“We Are the Universe” (intro)
3. New Born
4. Map of the Problematique
5. Supermassive Black Hole
6. Guiding Light
7. Interlude / Hysteria
8. Nishe / United States of Eurasia
9. Feeling Good
10. Helsinki Jam / Undisclosed Desires
11. MK Ultra
13. Plug in Baby
14. Time Is Running Out
15. Unnatural Selection
16. Exogenesis: Symphony Part I (Overture)
17. Stockholm Syndrome
18. Man with a Harmonica / Knights of Cydonia
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