Do you miss seeing a rock band put on a real show? Do you miss vast arrays of colored lights, moving platforms, spinning drum sets … do you miss lasers? If you do, Muse is the right band to see right now. Yet hidden behind all of the flashiness of their show is also a strong musical core. The two sides of this fight against each other, though, making the whole thing less than the sum of its parts. The question, though, is how big are those parts?
Silversun Pickups opened the show, starting a few minutes early so they could pack in 50 minutes of their straightforward, dynamic rock. They’re the perfect opening band for Muse: they’re the right level of popularity, they appeal to fans of real rock, and most of all, they deserve to play in front of giant audiences. You could tell they were enjoying themselves as they talked more in their one opening set than Muse likely did in this entire tour. At one point, singer and guitarist Brian Aubert announced he was doing a “shtick,” and then invited everyone to take out their cameras and flash away.
I wasn’t sure how much most of the Muse crowd enjoyed Silversun Pickups. On Saturday night in Las Vegas, the audience was vocal in their love for them, but here in Oakland, they were met with the muted stares of thousands of nodding heads. Were they into them? Even when they played their giant hit, “Lazy Eye,” the screams weren’t coming. But as they exited the stage for the last time (as this was the last night of the tour), they received a raucous ovation from nearly everyone in the building. We Bay Area people are so hard to read sometimes. Although I’ve seen them three times here in the last year, the Silversun Pickups have yet to play a traditional headlining show in the Bay Area in support of their excellent Swoon album, so hopefully they’ll be inspired to do soon.
Silversun Pickups setlist:
Growing Old Is Getting Old
Well Thought Out Twinkles
There’s No Secrets This Year
Future Foe Scenarios
After a 45 minute break, the lights went down, and Muse’s spectacular set came to life. The oval stage was topped by three skyscrapers that then lit up to show shadowy figures ascending staircases as odd ambient techno plays. Then the figures started falling, the crowd started cheering, curtains dropped, and Muse is revealed to be standing in the middle of these giant skyscrapers playing “Uprising” with flashing lights and projected lyrics, and everyone’s super excited. But it’s not until the third song, “New Born,” when they came down from the towers to play at the front (and bottom) of the stage, that the crowd was truly engaged. Now we were at a rock show.
As musicians, Muse are remarkable. I hope I’m not offending anyone when I call them a modern-day Rush. While their songs don’t last quite as long, they do have a similar degree of difficulty. Chris Wolstenholme’s bass lines are challenging, and often in the forefront. Air drummers get a chance to practice along with Dominic Howard. (Although he’s a lefty and I’m a righty, so I have to modify his drum lines to “play along” with them.) And Matt Bellamy both writes and plays hefty guitar riffs like it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. Seeing them simply play their anthemic songs is a joy to behold. So why bother with all the lasers?
My mother used to tell me, when I would come home from a concert all excited by flying drum sets, confetti cannons or laser projections, that you couldn’t really judge a musician unless they simply stood under a white light and played. She’s right, but I think the guys in Muse are like me: they grew up seeing giant inflated animals, flying lead singers and fireworks, and just thought it would be cool to be able to do that some day. And now, as one of the biggest bands in the world, they can. And I bet they’re having fun with it.
Still, the choreographed nature of the whole thing actually detracts from the excellent bits. There’s no doubt that songs like “Starlight” and “Knights of Cydonia” have a long life in front of them as live classics, and this would be the case with or without a guitar amp that doubles as a spotlight or multiple video projections throughout the venue. While all of these things are cool, they’re the kind of thing a lesser band needs. If Muse played under a white light, it would not only be great, it might even be better.
Right now, though, seeing a Muse show is an absolute spectacle. The material is strong, the fans are excited, and the light show is unsurpassed.
Muse’s setlist from 4/14/10:
Thanks to Alan Ralph for the photographs on this post. Check out lots of his rock photography here.