The most rock ‘n’ roll part of Muse’s spectacular spectacle of arena rock, performed at the Verizon Center this past Monday, may surprise you. It was not the pounding, driving Bonham-meets-Peart drumming of Dominic Howard; nor the flashy, LED-neck basses of Chris Wolstenholme; nor Matt Belamy’s guitar heroics, strut, or soaring vocals. All of those things are pretty rock ‘n’ roll, but rock is as much about attitude, as it is about the music itself. So, the most rock ‘n’ roll thing about Muse’s show was the fact that they broke the DC metro area ordinance that bans drone flight within the beltway, and by my count, they broke that rule about ten times at once. Now that is rock and roll!
Muse is a consummate arena rock band, and Generation Y’s answer to the Boomer’s crowned emperors of dramatic, production-focused arena rock: the bands like Journey, KISS and Pink Floyd. You could tell that there were elements of these emperor’s trade secrets. Their stage design recalled U2’s spaceship stage from their360 Tour. Their art rock narrative recalls Rush’s commitment to thematic presentations in the 1970s. The provocativeness of their effects, such as the giant puppeteer who appeared to pull Belamy and Wolstenholme’s strings during “The Handler,” recalled the dramatic productions of Pink Floyd. Finally, the immense virtuosity reflected the ferocity of a band like Van Halen. But, during the “Drones Tour” shows, which ended at the Verizon Center, these elements did not feel borrowed. Instead it felt like Muse were students who, having studied the techniques of the masters before them , finally learned to produce an arena spectacle as well as the masters of the 70s and 80s.
At the helm of Muse’s space-y, art rock flight is front man and guitarist Matt Belamy. Belamy is one of those rare singers, like Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson or Robert Plant, whose voice resonates to greatly throughout the arena, that even the patrons in the upper sections feel like he is singing to them in the pit. It’s easy for him to remind someone of Geddy Lee of Rush—if Geddy had the guitar chops possessed by bandmate Alex Lifeson. Add a Jagger strut into the mix, and you have one of the few individuals left in the music scene that is truly worthy of the moniker “rock star.” He shredded on songs like “Reapers” and “Uprising,” his vocals soared on “Starlight” and he brought his piano out of trap doors for songs like “Apocalypse Please.”
Yet, through all this time in the spotlight and being the group’s main attraction, Muse does very much feel like a band of equals. Their design for the “Drones” stage, playing in the round, aided this. Without the standard stage-against-the wall arrangement, Muse eliminated the unspoken, passive hierarchies that befall rock bands. With Howard, Wolstenholme and Belamy all in the center, the attention stayed on the unit of the trio as a singular unit. There were particular moments throughout the night, what stood out in my mind was a small exchange during “Map of the Problematique,” when the three would gather around the drum kit in council, and the swelling, kinetic energy was palpable.
Too often rock bands use flashy, over-the-top, escapist productions to hide their mediocrity as musicians and songwriters. Muse use the spectacle of the arena to tell the story, and the space of the arena as a way to amplify their already walloping, huge prog-rock sound. It seems like fewer and fewer rock bands today possess the ability to fill the arena space, and fewer still have little to no desire to occupy it at all. We can only hope that bands like Muse continue to lead their congregations in these rock ‘n’ roll megachurches, and inspire a few, young musicians along the way to do similar someday.
To learn more about Muse visit www.muse.mu