Unfortunately, no one can be told what a Muse concert is. You have to see it for yourself.
I told some friends last week that I would not be surprised if the Muse concert I attended last night turned out to be my last arena rock show. This surprised one of my friends, who asked, "Why would you say that?"
"Between the hearing loss and the fact that there just aren't that many acts coming to arenas that I am interested in seeing, I'm just not sure the opportunity will present itself again. Besides," I shrugged, "being middle-aged at these shows is starting to feel a little odd. I mean, I was on the fence for bringing my 11 year old daughter to the show, that kind of flies in the face of a number of rock traditions, right?"
Wrong, as it turns out.
First of all, I could have brought Fenya to last night's concert, but had originally thought it to be on a school night, when she is on spring break at the moment. I was by no means the oldest one there, nor the only parent, although most of the offspring there were in their teens. Most importantly, as long as I am able to get to them, I will continue to attend Muse concerts for the foreseeable future.
I have already spoken at some length about why I enjoy this British band, and everything about them is magnified and expanded in their live shows. Louder than Thor and more lasers than the freaking Death Star, it was both a musical extravaganza and feast for the eyes.
The stage design was great, three towers that served as office-tower style props (complete with animated automatons marching drudgingly up an internal set of stairs)elevating stage risers, (one for each band member), and as projectors for a number of video graphics and images of the band. My favourite use of this was when all three were filled with scrolling lines of computer code, but within which you could still make out images of guitarist Matt Bellamy as he played, like something from The Matrix, although the Galaga scenes during "Stockholm Syndrome" were a great touch as well. (Photo from edmontonjournal.com.)
Three songs in, they've have already deployed the aforementioned lasers in a display that puts to shame any of the light shows I saw in the 80s that served as awesome concert finales. That's right, three songs in, and on a song from the back-catalog no less, not the current chart riders. This picture is courtesy of Pete's iPhone, and as awesome as it is, it can't convey the epic scale of motion incorporated into the display. I got scanned so many times, I started checking my t-shirt for bar codes. Pete said, "I've taken so many lasers to the eyes, I'm half tempted to take off my glasses and see if they've improved my vision." If you ever wondered, hey, whatever happened to all the lasers from the Strategic Defense Initiative in the 80s, wonder no more: Muse has 'em.
Obviously there has to be more to the show than lasers, or no one would go to concerts and the planetarium would have a waiting list for its shows, and there were a few places for the band to showcase their virtuosity. Most pleasing was the drum and bass instrumental by Dominic Howard and Christopher Wolstenholme. Just long enough for lead vocalist and guitarist Matthew Bellamy to catch his breath, but a neat change up in a musically diverse setlist. Howard also got to come out and play some enormous kettle drums in the opening to the Exogenesis Symphony, part of a musical triptych which, on the album, utilizes more than 40 separate instruments.
It's Matt Bellamy who draws the most attention for musicianship though, from his songwriting skills to his ability to switch from grand piano to shredding guitar to portable keyboard with equal levels of intensity and experimentation. Playing the riff from "Plug In Baby" while leaping and turning pirouettes across the stage and never missing a note only added to his eminence; the man is a bona-fide guitar hero.
There's a lot to like about the band, from their epic prog-rock inspired themes, to their creative staging and arrangements, as well as their excellent harmonizing (which can't help but evoke memories of Queen), but my favourite aspects are their eclecticism and versatility. The fact that they can segue so quickly from a classical piano intro to crunchy rock in the same song (Newborn) to something drawn from rhythm & blues (Supermasssive Black Hole), to the pop harmonies and dance beats of Undisclosed Desires is nothing short of remarkable, and it never feels forced or artificial, just honest musical exploration.
All this and they rocked out hard for almost an hour and a half, with only about a five-minute break before the encore. Our upper-level seats felt primo because of the excellent staging; I doubt there was a bad seat in the house. The only downside was that we were too elevated to bat around one of the 16 immense inflatable eyeballs they dropped on the audience, which showered those nearby with confetti when they burst. Pete and I had such a great time, we went back to his place and watched most of their 2007 concert DVD (H.A.A.R.P.) before finally crashing at midnight.
As long as entertaining and well-executed spectacles like the one I saw last night are available, it would seem foolish to stop checking them out prematurely. The downside, if you want to call it that, is that the bar has been set pretty high by Muse, so the next band I intend to see in concert is Muse, again, whenever they return to Edmonton, or anywhere else in striking distance. I encourage everyone who appreciates rock in a progressive vein to join me, or go when they come to your town; you won't be disappointed.