For a brief moment during this extraordinary show you wonder what some of the better Muse songs might sound like stripped down. The bombast hides some great writing and not all the lyrics are out of this world imaginations. But It’s a crazy thought of course; Muse’s career has been built on extravagance and over statement. For almost two hours the Devon band roared and soared around the O2. The 2016 tour treats almost all the senses and it feels a privilege to experience one of the world’s best live rock bands.
Before they appear on the centrally positioned stage (‘in the round’ for the cultured among us), young Southend rock outfit Nothing But Thieves showed there is possibly an heir apparent waiting in the wings when Muse lose their mojo. With more guitars but less of that bombast, the band have an equally outstanding lead singer. Conor Mason managed to captivate the crowd; no mean feat when you’re filling in time before the main attraction. Nothing But Thieves are part of a band of British groups returning guitars to popularity and it seems certain we will hear a lot more from them in the years to come; their sound certainly suits a larger arena.
As for Muse, they show no sign of wanting to hand over the baton to any young pretenders. They arrived underneath circling balls of light that mesmerically danced around the arena, before launching into the terrific and explosive Psycho. Like many of the new songs performed tonight it works better live. After a series of increasingly expansive albums, Muse have taken their foot off the accelerator of late, with 2012’s The 2nd Law and last year’s Drones proving a little too indulgent in places.
Live though, Muse are still hard to match. For three blokes to make this much noise (with a little assistance from programming and keyboards carefully partly hidden lower down in the stage) is impressive. A sequence including Supermassive Black Hole, Starlight and the must-do cover Feeling Good heats up the London crowd as projections appear on silky curtains that fall from the ceiling. Among the best images are the huge projected hands that appear to be controlling Matt Bellamy and Chris Wolstenhome like puppets.
At one point the show goes very Pink Floyd, as a Thunderbird-like spaceship flies around. You’re expecting giant inflatable pigs at any moment. While the visuals impress, the music does too, with Time Is Running Out, now scarily 13 years old, sounding superb as it bounces and soars around the O2, while Animals, Take A Bow and Knights of Cydonia close the set. “Hello London” is about all we hear from Bellamy all night, but like Floyd’s shows, seeing Muse in concert is not about hearing the meaning behind Hysteria or Uprising, it’s about taking everything in, if you can!