It’s not hard to see why Muse has won so many ‘Best Live Act’ awards. In the past, they’ve had trapeze artists floating underneath airborne balloons, performed in hydraulic-powered columns that lifted them towards the skies and staged Orwellian-like marches with dozens of extras through their gigs. Music as theatre, as showmanship, they make U2 look small-minded. So you might think playing in the O2 wouldn’t suit them; that the dome-shaped bowl would feel like nothing more than a rehearsal room to the three-strong band from Devon.
Fortunately, they adapted their stage set to fit its shape, playing in the round, on a semi-circular set that was more stripped back than usual. Until that is a giant upside down pyramid, comprised of LED screens and hanging above the stage, began to form itself into its full shape, as if it were about to suck lead singer Matt Bellamy up into another dimension. In truth it was almost unnecessary. Such is the bombastic, full-throated nature of their music, particularly on new album The 2nd Law, they could just as easily have come out in their dressing gowns and slippers, and the audience would barely have noticed.
Beginning with The 2nd Law: Unsustainable, a high-pitched squealer of a jam session, this is the moment where you did start to wonder if Muse have become the new Queen. Songs like Madness, Supremacy and their Olympics effort Survival – sounding better here than when played in isolation – all seemed to summon the spirit of Freddie Mercury. While bass player Chris Wolstenholme’s lead vocals on Liquid State passed without incident, it was the album’s less heralded tracks – Animals and Panic Station that made the most emotional impact.
Quite whether these new songs – a real random mish-mash of musical influences, it must be said – will last as long in the mind as their earlier work only time will tell. In truth, nothing played on the night from the new album had the same power as Map Of The Problematique or Time Is Running Out, the only track played from their third album, Absolution. At least for those Showbiz fans in the audience, a rare outing was given to the piano-driven Falling Down from that now oft-forgotten debut LP.
Having played the Reading/Leeds festival last year, performing the whole of their second album Origin Of Symmetry, understandably they only pulled out two tracks from that – including a rip-roaring version of crowd favourite Plug In Baby. And the other? At one point, the screens around the semi-circle became a red-and-black roulette wheel, with the songs New Born and Stockholm Syndrome the prize. The ball bounced, we got New Born, the album’s opening track, a beautiful, spine-shivering song that never fails to encapsulate the madness that is Muse.
If there was one disappointment, it was that Isolated System – part two of The 2nd Law mini-opera that concludes the album with such gusto – fell flat on stage. Used before the band returned for the encore, its video of a Vincent Cassell-lookalike and others running away from an amorphous mass projected onto the pyramid of screens, this dubstep-influenced track showed no sign of the power it has on the album. Then again, when the band returned with a surging rendition of Uprising and concluded with that now-standard show-closer Knights Of Cydonia, you were reminded just where Muse work best: right on stage, right in front of you.
Muse played on Saturday 27 October at:
Image by wonker courtesy of Flickr