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Muse at the US Bank Arena, Cincinnati, October 11, 2010

October 13, 2010

Muse liveMuse are the masters of modern arena rock. This three-piece from Devon, England embody rock bombast. The stage show for their current US tour is the very opposite of subdued and intimate, with huge screens, a projected visual accompaniment for each song, raising and lowering platforms, crazy lights, huge balloons that look like eyeballs, a plexiglass grand piano, and frickin’ lasers…my god, the lasers.

I can just imagine the planning that went into this production:

Tour manager: So, how many lasers do you lads want for this tour?

Muse: Is “all” a number? Yes, all… All the lasers.

Guitarist/vocalist Matt Bellamy owned the nearly sold-out show. He seems to be single-handedly bringing back the concept of a guitar god, with a command of the instrument and a penchant for spontaneous growls and squeals that set him apart from his rock guitar peers. Bassist Chris Wolstenholme (a personal hero of mine) holds down a solid low end, accounting for the bulk of the band’s signature sound by using distortion and synth effects to add dynamics to a sadly underappreciated instrument. Dominic Howard beats the drums like they insulted his mama, maintaining a precise tempo in order to sync up with the visual accompaniment and carry the songs through their phases. The word “tight” is an understatement.

This is the second show I’ve seen on this tour; the first being Nashville back in March. With the exception of a break to headline the Austin City Limits Music Festival in September, Muse are touring in support of their latest album, The Resistance, which in my humble opinion is not their best effort, but it does include some real barn-burners. They open with “Uprising,” naturally. It’s got a stomping beat and a cool, growly synth-bass bottom end that, at high volume, really shakes the room. It’s definitely a good song to get the crowd going. Other tracks featured from this album include the up-tempo “Resistance,” with it’s sing-along chorus, and the piano-driven anthem “United States of Eurasia.” Another notable inclusion is “Undisclosed Desires,” which is a bit of a departure for the band. It is subdued and almost entirely keyboard-based, with electronic drums and a slap-bass line. Wolstenholme and Howard typically do a drum-and-bass jam at some point during the show. On this occasion, they used it as an intro to “Undisclosed Desires,” with Howard switching to an electronic kit and Wolstenholme pulling out all the stops and really wow-ing the crowd before Bellamy joins them on a custom made keytar (yes, that’s what I said. Keytar.)

Older songs included “Plug In Baby,” another up-tempo number (and fan favorite) with a distorted guitar hook, and “New Born,” with its sugar-plum-fairies piano intro that turns into a raging, head-banging guitar/bass riff. Occasionally, Bellamy likes to do what in football parlance is known as “calling an audible.” At the end of a song, he’ll break into the signature riff from a classic rock song and the rest of the band will join him for a few bars. One favorite is the middle riff from AC/DC’s “Back In Black,” and sometimes it’s just some random groove he comes up with, but another treat that night was Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker.”

In my opinion, the band’s best material comes from 2003’s Absolution and 2006’s Black Holes & Revelations. In Cincinnati, the song selection from those LPs did not disappoint. Tracks from the former included the synth-bass groove “Time Is Running Out,” the head-bangin’ “Stockholm Syndrome,” and (my personal favorite) the raucous “Hysteria” with its distorted opening riff and shout-along chorus. (Check out the 5-minute mark of the “Stockholm Syndrome” clip to see Bellamy call the aforementioned “audible” and engage in some guitar badassery.) Tracks from Black Holes & Revelations included (another personal favorite) “Starlight” and (surprisingly) “Map of the Problematique,” whose 80’s-goth-throwback vibe has not been a live staple for quite some time.

Naturally, the band also played “Supermassive Black Hole.” Upon its release, this song wasn’t one of my favorites, but it has grown on me. However, due to its inclusion on the Twilight movie soundtrack (Twilight author Stephenie Meyer is a Muse fan) a significant chunk of the crowd were teenage girls. Which is fine. I have no problem with this, honestly. But the song did get a rather high-pitched squeal of approval from the tween girls in the row in front of me. (Perhaps not coincidentally the opening act, which we missed, was a band called Metric who are also on the Twilight soundtrack.)

One of the last songs of the night was “Knights of Cydonia,” an up-tempo rocker with an epic refrain. This song is always a crowd pleaser and the band knows how to make the most of its best features. I think lights must have been dimming for a five-block radius when they turned on all the lasers, lights, and mist machines at the end of this number. The amperage for a show like this must be staggering. On the way out of the venue, I caught sight of four tour buses and eight (!) tractor-trailers used to haul the band and their stage gear. Now that’s rock n’ roll.

My one real complaint is the cost of merchandise. Though they had a respectable assortment of shirts and other swag, the average t-shirt price was $32, which is outrageous as far as I’m concerned. Screen-printed shirts are absurdly cheap to make, especially in the quantities required by a band like Muse. $32 is out of bounds. Not to go all “get off my lawn” here, but when I saw Nine Inch Nails on the Downward Spiral tour in 1994, I bought the most expensive shirt they had: a long-sleeve tee with band’s name on the front and back, lyrics from “March of the Pigs” down each arm, and a silver NIN embroidered at the right wrist cuff. Fancy for the day, to be sure, and quite a splurge at $27. (I still own and proudly wear this shirt.)

Muse really are at the top of their game. They are absolute huge in Europe, selling out Wembley stadium two nights in a row in 2008 for their HAARP live CD/DVD, as well as large venues all over the world. It’s good to see them filling arenas here in the States as well. With enough energy for a dozen hard rock bands and a touch of theatricality, they provide a thoroughly enjoyable spectacle. Their remaining tour dates for 2010 can be found here.

Photos from March’s show in Nashville can be viewed at my Flickr account.

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3 Comments
  1. October 13, 2010 3:23 pm

    Awwww man. I wish you’d hadn’t been running late. Metric is a Canadian band and they’re really phenomenal (and on their way). Saw them three years ago — pre-Twilight plug and Muse opener — and they’ve only gotten better.

    Check out two albums by them: “Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?” and “Live It Out.” You won’t be disappointed. Really good stuff.

    • Paul permalink
      October 14, 2010 8:51 am

      I dunno man. I did some YouTube investigating of Metric and didn’t really hear anything that blew my skirt up.

      Maybe I’ll give them another chance.

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