Conspiracies at the ready, MT spent a night inside the sensory spectacle that is Muse – live.
“Sorry, the fans broke my guitar.” Matt Bellamy awkwardly gestures towards one of the several metal wind-blowers which sit on stage, apologising as he goes to replace his guitar halfway through the opening song, Psycho.
Such was the start of a stuttering but staggering performance by the usually faultless trio.
With their centrally placed platform somehow crammed into the compact confines of Copenhagen’s Forum arena, runway wings sprouting from either side of the circle, the stage was well and truly set for a night of drone-themed drama, theatre and beautiful noise.
A single, round display was flanked by screens which descended on command, as floating orbs – or “drones” – drifted and danced in an aerial ballet to the wails and warbles of the Muse frontman.
Warmed up by New Regime, a group which includes former Nine Inch Nails man Ilan Rubin, the crowd seemed quietly anticipatory of an all-out audio assault by the boys in black.
And so it began – in acapella form: the closing track of the band’s latest album (and of the same name), Drones, opened things in haunting fashion, as layers of Bellamy’s voice floated to the low, sloping rafters.
Orbs floated and span, lights swooped, and the crowd awed. Then, out they came: trooping in alongside futuristic figures clad in riot gear, Christopher Wolstenholme, Dominic Howard and Bellamy himself looked set to rock Copenhagen for the second consecutive night.
Less than halfway into Psycho, though, a guitar had different ideas. As the crowd continued to offer their voices in place of the six-string silence, a bemused Bellamy disappeared to replace his stricken instrument.
On his return, things continued as before – albeit with time of the essence – as the band pumped through Psycho with panache.
Strangely, though, the crowd seemed distant. Sure, the cheers were loud and the shouted lyrics louder, but there was a disconcerting lack of movement during even the heaviest of sections – and this continued as Muse romped through Reapers.
Surely things would pick up as Bellamy squeaked and squealed through the punky Plug In Baby? Perhaps it was Danish politeness, but there was little in the way of rampant enthusiasm on display; rather, it was a bobbing, swaying sort of situation.
Even as Dead Inside – delivered in a lower octave, no doubt due to tired vocal chords – gave way to old favourites Map of the Problematique and Hysteria, the atmosphere felt like one of observation, not celebration.
Certainly, the crowd happily sang Bellamy the appropriate birthday wishes between songs (it was his 38th) and several signs – from “Happy Birth Thank” to “Pick Me” – indicated adoration for the lead singer and guitarist.
All the same, as the screens descended to display stunning visuals meshed with real-time footage, and the threesome smashed through Supermassive Black Hole, there was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm from the band.
Any tour leaves a band tired, and it’s often the crowd from whom they feed. On this night, the crowd was more polite than rowdy, leaving bassist Wolstenhome to survey the scene, apparently in search of some kind of movement.
This wasn’t helped by niggling issues – from Howard’s bass drum mic taking a few bars to come alive in Starlight, to Bellamy losing a pick or two – which at several points broke the fourth wall which Muse seemed happy to have surrounding them.
That’s not to say the concert was a disappointment – far from it: featuring 8 tracks from the new album, as well as a handful of old favourites, including erstwhile crowd-pleaser Feeling Good, this was certainly a well-selected playlist, delivered with the high-drama one expects from a band that’s arguably one of the finest live acts in the world.
Throw in a stage set to rival U2’s 360° Claw, confetti cannons which distribute Drones-themed mini-men and descending stage elements reminiscent of The War of the Worlds, and you’ve got a recipe for success.
As ever, though, there’s no accounting for the crowd – and, whilst the show was rushed due to the late start, one has to wonder whether the band consciously shortened Knights of Cydonia‘s usually rave-inducing ending, given the sheer inactivity of those experiencing it.
The apparent unfamiliarity of swathes of the crowd with much of the new material aided matters little: certain songs were met with silence, whilst others, including a drum and bass jam by Wolstenholme and Howard, were deemed less interesting than conversations, video calls and text messages.
Two birthday cream pies to the face of an unsuspecting Bellamy – courtesy of his band mates – brought cheers and laughter as the house lights came up, but it’s worth asking whether a better present might have been an audience more engaged with a band so internationally renowned.
Perhaps it was the unusual balconied seating arrangement of the Forum, or the fact that the concert was not sold out – but something was certainly missing.
All the same, this was Muse at their theatrical best: atmosphere aside, the performance itself was polished (despite the interruptions) and the physical set staggering, as the central section rotated for all to see.
As Time is Running Out drove into the stirring Uprising, into the whistling call-to-arms The Globalist, it was difficult to feel disappointed in a night that delivered on both variety and quality.
Admittedly, it felt a little like a performance that had been rehearsed countless times, but this is Muse: one comes to be blown away in a blitzkrieg of light and sound, not entertained by the band’s personality.
Energy levels might have been a little low – the gentlemen are getting a little older, after all – but there’s no question: Muse are the band to see before you die. Just make sure you’re happy to mosh alone.
WORDS & IMAGES BY CHRIS ROWLANDS