Monday, February 25, 2013 at 10:13 a.m.
By Matt Levin
Muse likes to wax philosophically in their lyrics, singing about revolts and power struggles with soaring bravado-laden falsetto choruses that shout arena rock. So maybe that creates false expectations for the band's live act. And maybe, on stage, the British trio is just not that interesting.
But it's also too bad since a Muse show has all the elements -- the hallucinatory laser lights, the barrage of familiar singles and the charmingly loony lead singer/guitarist Matthew Bellamy -- to make for an outrageous performance.
The hits, the heavy riffing of "Stockholm Syndrome" and "Knights of Cydonia," and the chorus sing-alongs of "Time Running Out" and bliss, sounded top-notch. The glowy electronics on stage provided a fearsome backdrop for the tour. From the night's dub-step opener "The 2nd Law: Unsustainable," to the pomposity of the show's closing tune, "Survival," the concert had all the right hysterical parts except the band members couldn't seem any more nondescript.
Maybe other bands could get away with it, but this is a group whose own sound arises from ripping off the most theatrical cuts of Radiohead and Queen. And at the BB&T Center on Friday night, Muse offered up a satisfactory show that felt all too tame for a band best known for bombast.
Muse played on a sleek and far-too-spacious platform. A large inverted pyramid fastened with LED screens hung above them. The set-up might have been the problem. It was too massive, too glossy, too sterile. Bellamy and bassist Chris Wolstenholme appeared preoccupied with its enormity as they wandered around from one side to the other. Some of the flashy touches only added to the frigidity, such as the oversized stock ticker that rolled across the bottom of the stage during "Animals."
We in the audience spent part of the night observing three patients through a one-way mirror. We watched Bellamy do his knee slides in a manner that seemed tedious as if it was his job to test the slickness of the floor. (It was not very slick.) During another song, he kept lightly kicking a rotating spotlight that been turned off. His back turned to the crowd as he watched the metal object spin around and around. The band showed little interest in crowd interaction, nary uttering a word for long swathes of time.
When the visuals took center-stage, and the rock stars moved into the background, the concert seemed more engaging. At one point, the pyramid flipped and reversed itself, dropping down from the ceiling and sitting right side up on the stage, enveloping drummer Dominic Howard. The screens flashed a disturbing video (in a good way!) of individuals fleeing from a shadowy, lethal force, as the song "The 2nd Law: Isolated System" played. The pyramid's LEDs dominated the next track too, "Uprising."
The videos worked because of the cinematic quality to Muse's sound. The group has so many hits that could be "cranked out" while the screens provide the visual entertainment. And yet Muse shouldn't have to hide behind some glistening spectacle. The most memorable moments of the night occurred at those rare times when the Muse tried to break down that barrier between the stage and the audience. The best occurred during the encore.
The lights dimmed, obscuring the spacious stage, and Bellamy stepped out into the crowd, rooting on his fans on as they swayed with the band and chanted the grandiose chorus of "Starlight," -- our hopes and expectations, black holes and revelations -- and you could sense how huge, how immense a Muse concert could really be. And you wonder: why couldn't it be that way the entire time?