Perfect Pitch for a Band with Kick


Wembley Stadium **

It's a shame that George Michael pipped Muse to the post when it came to staging the first show at the new Wembley. In its way, this rebuilt stadium ringed by corporate comfort pods and a grey array of identical concessions selling junk food at gourmet prices is far more in keeping with Muse's vision of a world -one run by faceless committees, hurrying us along to some manner of irreversible 21st-century peril.
So much so, in fact, that when two processions of yellow-attired "officials" in gas masks marched to the centre of the pitch, where plumes of pretend nuclear fallout signalled Muse's arrival, it seemed oddly unsurprising.

Rather more unexpected was Knights of Cydonia -the song with which the Devonian trio heralded their arrival. Since its appearance on last year's Black Holes and Revelations album, this hoedown for hitherto undiscovered civilisations has lodged itself as a natural climax to the Muse live experience. As it happens, it's pretty good at kicking things off as well.

Dressed in a red suit, the frontman Matt Bellamy locked into a groove with drummer Dominic Howard and bassist Chris Wolstenholme with one of his trademark guitar motifs, which seem to locate an equidistant point between metal riffing and something you might sooner find at a rave.

Delivered with the sort of fin de siecle grandiloquence that Muse have made their own, it was a trick that worked with Pavlovian immediacy on several songs.

Beneath the five, ominous-looking satellite receivers that dominated the stage set, Bellamy revelled in his own virtuosity. For Hoodoo he took to a grand piano, like a millennial Liberace channelling J. S. Bach while, behind him, Howard triggered a series of percussive avalanches. Then, not for the last time, Bellamy leapt from his stool and finished the job off with a crescendo of fretboard showboating. Taste and subtlety weren't exactly high on the agenda -but when your sonic blueprint is Radiohead reared on a diet of Philip K. Dick, David Icke and Queen, that was never going to be the case.[more]

Instead we got a torrential downpour of sparks for Starlight and an unexpected moment of levity in the form of Man of Mystery -an unadorned Shadows cover, no less.
The latter was a brief musical curveball that served to accentuate the ensuing spectacle that accompanied Newborn. After standing there motionless for more than an hour, the five huge satellites illuminated themselves and proceeded to move, as though monitoring the 70,000-odd fans in attendance.

After four albums spent developing his conspiracy theories on governmental mind control and alien life forms, you sensed for a brief, alarming moment that Bellamy had made contact and employed himself as some sort of emissary of those "interplanetary craft" that the Carpenters once sang about -such was the cumulative effect of being immersed inside Muse's paranoid pomp rock.

After proving that the sublime and the ridiculous need not occupy separate beds, the encore yielded one moment of unalloyed beauty. Over the elegiac Blackout, two white balloons either side of the stage floated into view, each with a dancer hanging off them, moving ballet-style to the song.

Having wondered how the band would better the ending that Knights of Cydonia would have provided, this would have been as breathtaking as it was unexpected. Instead, a further four songs seemed anticlimactic by comparison.

That said, out on the pitch, the trampolining morass moving as one to Take A Bow may have felt differently. It might be the end of the world as we know it, but for the best part of two hours, we felt fine.

Pete Paphides
18 June 2007
The Times