By Carter Shelter
It’s hard to imagine a time when Muse weren’t playing arenas. Their music is built for huge venues and crowds in a way that not even Queen or U2 could boast, and the energy displayed by the band’s three members, particularly singer and guitarist Matt Bellamy, gives the impression that anything smaller wouldn’t be appropriate. At Barclays Center last Wednesday, the British trio, on tour for their latest album, last year’s “Drones”, brought their affinity for the grandiose to the first Brooklyn show of their career.
For a show that featured riot police, spinning light up orbs, a flying drone, drop down projection screens, and a huge stage designed which featured a rotating circular platform at the center of the arena floor with two long catwalks extending in either direction, what was most striking about Muse’s live show was just how good of a live band they are. If you’ve listened to a handful of Muse songs, it should be no secret that the guys are gifted musicians, but their ability to work a stage while simultaneously blazing through some of the best riffs of the 21st century with apparent ease is captivating. Whether it’s bassist Chris Wolstenholme’s intro to “Hysteria,” Bellamy’s wild solos in songs like “Supermassive Black Hole” or “Reapers,” played while running the entire length of the stage, or Dominic Howard’s drum solo and jam with Wolstenholme before “Madness,” they give the crowd what they want and then some.
And while moments of intimacy are hard to come by for a band playing these venues with this music, the few chances the band took to gather around each other and just play felt like watching a bunch of crazy talented friends just jamming in their basement. For all of their theatrics and overblown stage personalities (looking at you Matt Bellamy, and all of your playing to the camera) it’s clear that there’s a reason these three have remained a band for over 20 years.
None of this is to say, though, that the theatricality didn’t matter. It matters a lot. It’s what allows them to take a really good rock show and make it into a really good arena rock show. Not many bands can pull of some of the things Muse do (screens that show the band members as puppets on strings, huge black balloons filled with confetti, a light up piano), without seeming cheesy, but with this band the music is already so big and operatic, that it would feel unnatural for their shows to be anything less. When Matt Bellamy goes to pound out the piano chords of “Apocalypse Please,” or the end of “The Globalist,” it only makes sense for that piano to rise up from the floor and then sink back down at the end of the song. If Wolstenholme’s bass didn’t have lights running down the length of its neck I’d be a little disappointed. Watching a Muse show is almost like watching “Mad Max”. There is a deliberate “summer Blockbuster” feel to the whole thing, but it’s not there to cover up any lack in quality, it’s there to complement a truly fantastic (and bombastic) rock band.
Carter Shelter is a staff writer at Washington Square News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org