Muse Live at TD Garden

Muse2If you would take one thing away from last night’s Muse concert, it would be this: Muse loves lights. They put them on everything from their guitars and grand pianos to their massive, pyramid shaped light show that expands and contracts and engulfs the entire band at certain points throughout the show. It is fitting that a band who have made a career off of some of the most bombastic and overblown music of the past decade have a light show that manages to be even more over the top and ridiculous than their music.

Please note that isn’t a negative thing. Very few modern bands do these kinds of overblown, arena rock antics any more and Muse, for the most part, are one of the torchbearers of that seemingly lost era of arena Progressive rock. As much as some music snobs may want you to think that prog is a dirty word, a synonym for the overwrought and over indulgent, there is something be said about a band that can balance all of the intellectual and complicated trappings of the genre while still writing a song poppy enough to convince a couple thousand of people to pile into an arena.

Muse isn’t exactly a prog band, but they do good a job of dropping the genre’s more cerebral (some would say pretentious) moments and replacing them with gonzo guitar riffs galore. Singer and guitarist Matt Bellamy, known to drop Rage Against The Machine riffs frequently during concerts, is no stranger to the arena. Muse has been headlining massive stages in their British homeland for almost a decade (see: their headlining set at Glastonbury 2004 or their triumphant set at Wembley Stadium in 2007). So, when they dropped songs like “Knights of Cydonia” on the audience, the results were explosive. Few songs emit the sheer amount of energy and grandeur through a single guitar riff, but Bellamy manages to capture all of that and blast it into space. All the while, their floating pyramid is going insane, fluctuating through different colors, patterns, and designs.

If you couldn’t tell, Muse is not a subtle band. They start with the guitar-riffage and seizure inducing light show and never really let up until the song is over. “Maps of the Problematique” was both claustrophobic and bracing and “Supermassive Black Hole” prompted one of the biggest sing alongs of the night. Even some of the weaker tracks on their latest album, The 2nd Law, get a swift makeover with “Panic Station” dropping the weak, faux-funk of the album version and evolving into a bombastic arena rocking track.

The only problem with this technique is if you lose the bombast and suddenly try to be subtle, you lose the crowd. In that regard, Muse can learn a thing or two about pacing. Maybe its an effort to try and win over a larger American crowd, but the quieter tracks simply didn’t work. “Explorers” went over like a wet blanket and the poppy electronics of “Follow Me” didn’t quiet work out as planned. Combined with the Queen-aping “United States of Eurasia” (which hasn’t aged too well) and the “let’s let the bassist sing this one” in the form of “Liquid State”, Muse started to sag halfway through their set.

“Madness” injected some energy into the crowd, but what really brought things back up to speed was the combination of “House of the Rising Sun” leading right into a blitzed version of “Time Is Running Out”. Again, the light show spazzed out as the guitar riffs flew around the arena all being held down by a massive sounding, fuzzy bass and powerhouse drumming. There’s nothing amazingly complicated about the thought process behind most of the show: pummel the crowd over and over again and, when they put their energy into it, they succeed. “Stockholm Syndrome” proved this point and then some with its absolutely punishing intro. Truly one of their best songs, “Stockholm Syndrome” reaches that near perfect blend of Muse’s grandiose and operatic leaning and their more down to earth guitar-riffage. In fact, it is an absolute shame that Muse seem to be pushing away form this past into what seems to be a divisive future. The 2nd Law isn’t a perfect album by any means, so its a bit disappointing to get a setlist filled to the brim with songs from it.

While I’m sure some house cleaning will take place at the end of the tour, is it really necessary to play their terrible pastiche of dubstep, “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable”? As their light pyramid slowly covered the entire band, the trailer video they initially released for The 2nd Law started to play on the screens of the pyramid, as if their gig was a story and they were somehow building up to this moment. It was a baffling moment that really did quite the opposite of their intentions by killing any momentum they had. Of course, all is forgiven by the time they launch into the space-rock groove of “Uprising”, another flaccid album track turned into a scorching testament to Muse’s live prowess. The crowd go wild, the lights go wild, and all is right in the Muse universe for now.

Closing with the one-two punch of “Starlight” (the night’s biggest sing along, by far) and “Survival”, Muse seems to be sliding into a territory that is far too safe for a band with their potential. Sure, they’ve been playing arenas for quite sometime now, but maybe its time to actually let the music loose. There were moments that seemed all a bit too planned to really capture the spontaneous energy of a truly great concert and, while there were many exciting moments to be had, their setlists have become far too predictable. It seems odd for a band like Muse to be reverting, but there were times where their penchant for theatricality really got the best of them. The energy was there, but it a lot of it was canned. Maybe next time they’ll bunk their self-imposed leashes and really burn down the house, but for now they seem quite content with simply tearing the roof off; blasting their own songs into space while leaving their fans standing in the arena.

By Stevie Dunbar
Photos by Chris Paredes

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