Pinpointing Muse's primary, uh, muse is neither difficult -- if you said Bends/OK Computer-era Radiohead, give yourself a gold star -- nor particularly insightful to point out at this stage. It's an old knock. Just the same, not making note of the uncanny resemblance seems a bit disingenuous and remiss, sort of like writing about Theory of a Deadman and not mentioning how the band sounds (exactly) like Nickleback.
To be fair, Radiohead is certainly not Muse's only influence -- there's flecks of Queen, along with various composers and prog-rock bands to be found in this color match -- just its most prominent. Fact is, vocalist Matthew Bellamy's voice is so kindred to Thom Yorke's -- from his expressive phrasing to the gasping way he draws his breath -- that nine out of ten fans would be hard pressed to distinguish the difference in a blind taste test.
Granted, when Muse made its debut with Showbiz in 1999, the similitude was probably more pronounced. Just two years after OK Computer was released, that particular version of Radiohead was still fresh in people's minds, and the outfit carved out a place for itself somewhere between seeming deadringers like Paloalto and kindred acts like Remy Zero on the, uh, airwaves. More than a decade on, though, that Computer's a DOS-like dinosaur, and Muse has successfully honed its sound into something unimpeachably its own with tablet-like precision.
This show -- as Bellamy pointed out during his exceedingly limited banter -- was originally slated to take place at the notably smaller 1STBANK Center. When news of its postponement (due to unseasonably inclement weather) was accompanied by word that Silversun Pickups wouldn't be part of the rescheduled bill and that the show had been moved to the Pepsi Center, it seemed a bit lofty, the notion that Muse could fill a venue the size of the Pepsi Center. Clearly promoters knew something prognosticators didn't: Muse has a massive and devoted fanbase, as evidenced by the enthusiastic throng assembled on Saturday night.
Oh and fans were certainly enthusiastic. Passionate Pit made good and sure everyone was primed and ready for Muse. Earning every bit of its keep as an opener, despite being sequestered to essentially the apron of the stage and dwarfed by the headliner's mammoth cityscape backdrop, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based quintet played with palpable vigor, tearing through its condensed set as though it was the main draw on a small club tour rather than filling the opening slot in an arena. The outfit's synth-drenched dance pop sound, driven by Michael Angelakos's reedy, full falsetto, had everyone shimmying in the aisles and left everyone with a smile. As well-received as Passion Pit's set was, however, it was but a pleasant memory by the time Muse took the stage just after 9 p.m. As the music started swelling, silhouettes of stick figures ascending a staircase and then collapsing dominoe-like on one another were projected on the three towering skyscraper curtains. When the backlit curtains dropped (buildings crumbled?), the threesome appeared on a trio of raised, LED encased platforms, clad in shinny suits. As the images flashed on the giant screens above and below, it almost looked as though the band was performing on a rooftop in Times Square.
After a few songs, the platforms lowered into the stage and brought the players to eye level, and that's when the guys, augmented by a keyboardist, dug in and got down to the business of arena rockin', which they've clearly mastered at this point. Over the course of a tight, ninety-minute or so set, the eye-grabbing moments were often and plentiful. From the hydraulic lifts and the green lasers dotting the rafters to the scrolling graphics on the LED screens and Bellamy's backlit Dickinson cabinet, the visual element was strong and bolstered both the quieter moments and the fist pounding, sing-a-long anthems such as "Starlight," "Time Is Running Out" and "Unnatural Selection."
But it wasn't just an elaborate stage show that kept everybody's attention. Watching Bellamy and his mates turn in a precise, impassioned performance was every bit as dazzling, particularly Bellamy, who moved expertly and effortlessly between instruments. Playing single and double-neck guitars, he showcase prog-worthy fretwork in between tickling the ivories of a neon keytar and grand piano and pounding out rhythms on a rack of toms adorned with red tube lighting that blinked in time with the beat.
Other noteworthy highlights: Bellamy and company treated us to sixteen or so bars of "House of the Rising Sun" as an intro to "Time Is Running Out," and during the first song of the encore, a dozen or so giant eyeball balloons filled with confetti were tossed into the crowd and subsequently bandied about by fans before being popped. The show ended with bursts of smoke exploding along the parameters of the stage like flash pods.
Overall, it's safe to say that Muse possesses a stunning degree of musicality and showmanship that far exceeds whatever influences may be embedded in its fabric. More impressive is the level of rock Muse manages to create with just one guitar (it took the revered Radioheads three to make such a fierce, triumphant noise).
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: The Bends and OK Computer had an immeasurable impact on me as a music fan and both rank in my personal pantheon of all-time classic albums. As much as I admired Radiohead's subsequent artistic progression, Muse filled the post-Computer void created by Kid A, Amnesiac, et all. Songs like "Unnatural Selection" makes the hair on my arms stand up. Random Detail: Bassist Christopher Wolstenholme had at least a dozen picks fastened to his mike stand, even though he played the bulk of the set with his fingers. By the Way: From the looks of the setlist at Setlist.fm, Muse switched things up a bit from the other shows on this tour. SETLIST
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MUSE 10.02.10 | Pepsi Center Denver, CO
01. Exogenesis: Symphony, Part 1: Overture 02. Map of the Problematique 03. Knights of Cydonia 04. Uprising 05. Supermassive Black Hole Play Video 06. Hysteria 07. Nishe 08. United States Of Eurasia 09. Feeling Good (Leslie Bricusse & Anthony Newley cover) 10. MK Jam 11. Undisclosed Desires 12. Resistance 13. Starlight 14. Time Is Running Out 15. Unnatural Selection Play Video
16. Plug In Baby 17. Stockholm Syndrome 18. Take A Bow