Triumphant Giant-Killers are House Band fit for a Stadium

First Night ++ MUSE ++ Wembley Stadium LONDON

Talk about unlikely glories. Granted, Muse and Wembley Stadium have much in common. Neither major in subtlety or stealth: one sits under a skyline-dominating arch so vast you could probably fly a decent-sized plane through it; the other dominates contemporary rock with a sound so vast it could probably give the volume of said plane taking off a run for its money.[more]

But there’s also something fabulously implausible about Muse’s path to Wembley Stadium. If you had been asked in 1997 who would be the first band to sell out this expensively reappointed venue, you wouldn’t have put money on a trio from Teignmouth who channel the pomp of prime-era Queen through Rush-styled prog-rock, 1990s guitar-rock dynamics, falsetto-fuelled sym-phonics and loopy conspir-acy-theory lyrics about aliens and the like. A band once dismissed as a daft version of Radiohead for doom-metal teenagers, at that.

Last year, before unfinished building work forced a hasty relocation of the gig, the Eighties pin-up poodle-rockers Bon Jovi were scheduled to open the new Wembley. See the difference?

In the event, the supports helped set the tone of unlikely success. To a rapturous reception, the Mexican acoustic-guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela somehow managed to cut fresh routes through hoary heavy-rock classics such as “Smoke on the Water”. Dirty Pretty Things proved ordinary by comparison, but The Streets won over the fiercely partisan Muse faithful with much charm, Mike Skinner even gamely trying to re-enact the clap-along moment from Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga” at Live Aid.
Muse’s glory wasn’t to be stolen, though. It takes them roughly half a minute to grab the show by the scruff of the neck. Framed by explosions of glitter and backed by a bombastic orchestral overture, they rise through a stage in the centre of the crowd and stride to the main stage via a walkway. Once there, the singer, Matt Bellamy, teases out the Close Encounters of the Third Kind theme tune from his guitar before tearing into the galloping mariachi-metal of “Knights of Cydonia”. It’s an attention-grabbing entrance, even before you take into account the drummer, Dom Howard’s, retina-scorching, lime-green jeans and Bellamy’s hot chilli pepper of a red suit.

As a spectacle, the show is eye-catching. Huge balloons behind the stage exude an extra-terrestrial glow as screens flash out a flurry of slogans and images. During “New Born”, five giant satellite dishes cast baleful spotlight eyes over the crowd, like the war machines in War of the Worlds. In the encores, during the symphonic lullaby “Blackout”, two balloons rise high over the heads of the audience with two white-clothed acrobats suspended from them, an eerie, graceful, Man Who Fell to Earth- ish visual coup that invokes 70,000 or so ecstatic “Ooohs” and “Aaaahs”.
Happily, the music is a muscular match for the bells-and-whistles production. “Hysteria” and “Super-massive Black Hole” state the case: anything less than super-massive hysteria won’t do for this occasion.

The latter’s Prince-styled funk-grunge hits an irresistibly cocky stride, before an elegantly propulsive “Map of the Problematique” inflates Eighties-styled synth-rock to stadium size. Even during the set’s space-rock-Liberace mid-section, as Bellamy teases out glissandos from a grand piano, the intensity overrides any charges of ridiculousness with one central certainty: this rocks, in a big way.

In a Queenly way, too. “Invincible” mines communal catharsis with the shamelessly anthemic grandiosity of “We Are the Champions”, before the pulse-pounding pop of “Starlight” unites the audience in a clap-along that, after Mike Skinner’s winningly witty attempt, invokes “Radio Ga Ga” in excelsis. If Queen seemed like Wembley Stadium’s house band during the mid to late Eighties, Muse grab that crown with both hands. Unlikely as it might once have looked, Muse really were the right band for this job.

Kevin Harley
18 June 2007