Rock stars still exist. That was a key take-away from the spectacular Muse show at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena, absolutely packed out on Monday night a week out from Christmas.
The excitement and anticipation were palpable in the air prior to the arrival of the one support band for the night, London’s Nothing but Thieves. With only half an hour to play, vocalist Conor Mason declared early in the set, “We’re not going to mess around; we’re not here to fuck spiders!” His bold claim to an already filling arena was not without basis, as the band kicked off with a couple of high-energy rock tracks before bringing it down to something with a bit more groove, and then an outright ballad. Nothing but Thieves masterfully brought the audience along for the ride, with a good proportion of the crowd getting out their phone lights for the slowest part of the set; a beautiful sight to see.
Mason was without a doubt the standout performer of the band, his impressive vocals leading a sound that could at times be compared to Ian Astbury and The Cult. Unusually, the bass had a prominent role in this modern rock, with the evening kicking off with an almost overwhelming rumble from Philip Blake.
After their slower moment Nothing but Thieves kicked it back up several notches, leaving the audience on a high as they waited for Muse to hit the stage.
The massive Muse set of 19 songs kicked off with their latest single, ‘Dig Down.’ A fairly downbeat song, it wasn’t the most stirring choice for an opening, but what was immediately apparent was that visual production was going to play a huge part in this show. Frontman Matt Bellamy appeared wearing neon glowing sunglasses in the darkness, while both he and bassist Chris Wolstonholme played guitars decorated with LEDs. To begin the evening Wolstonholme played a double-necked guitar to facilitate both rhythm and bass duties, neither neck with a headstock. Meanwhile, drummer Dominic Howard kept the beat pumping with a mobile drum riser that moved back and forward on the stage depending on how much space the production otherwise required. Howard was flanked and in front of huge cabinets of screens, also movable, that formed the backdrop and played video throughout the show; from abstract designs, to CGI representations of DNA, to extracts from the band’s beautifully-crafted music videos. While not topping the intentionally insane grandiosity of the Unsustainable tour, it was still a formidable production.
Audience participation was certainly part of the mix with the video “Drill Sergeant” intro to ‘Psycho,’ with the audience dutifully responding, “Aye, sir!” to every demand made of them, culminating in, “I am a psycho killer!” ‘Psycho’ proved to be a much more pumping track, opening up the live Muse sound that invariably trumps their studio recordings.
The band then took it back to one of their earlier albums, Absolution, with ‘Hysteria,’ followed by one of their early and better-known singles, ‘Plug-in Baby.’ The latter got the crowd moving in earnest, with the front and centre area of the pit surrounding the extension of the stage bouncing all through the night.
Throughout the night, the light show was also an impressive part of the production, and really came into its own with ‘The 2nd Law: Isolated System.’ Despite the large stage at Rod Laver, the screen towers drew in close and a bank of lights lowered from the ceiling to create a claustrophobic, laboratory-like feel. Drummer Howard seemed trapped with all these set-pieces surrounding him, and even the charismatic Bellamy seemed smaller in this daunting environment.
Next up was the ‘The Handler,’ followed by the absolute crowd-pleaser ‘Supermassive Black Hole,’ then into the opening from the same breakthrough album Black Holes and Revelations, ‘Take a Bow.’ The Cramps got a look-in with Muse covering ‘New Kind of Kick,’ and then things slowed back down with ‘Madness.’ One of the more visually impressive songs of the night, this one saw Bellamy imprisoned in a cage of bright blue lasers, which he could manipulate into brilliant spots by the simple but effective motion of his hands.
Throughout the night Bellamy’s vocal performance was incredible, particularly with his ability to harmonise his falsetto with his guitar. As a guitarist too, Bellamy is underrated. The complexity and precision of his abilities were showcased in ‘Stockholm Syndrome,’ a song that took on a celebratory atmosphere as massive balloons, people-shaped confetti, and then streamers were launched into the arena.
Wolstonholme and Howard then had a chance to strut their stuff with the ‘Munich Jam,’ originally played at the Rockavaria Festival 2015. Audience participation was back with ‘Starlight,’ brewing true pathos as the audience sang along to, “Our hopes and expectations, black holes and revelations.” The emotional levels remained high as the pointy end of the night approached, with the appropriately named ‘Time is Running Out.’ ‘Mercy’ and ‘The Globalist’ rounded out what was meant to be the main set, but due to the night running slightly behind schedule, the band simply carried on into the encore tracks – the stirring opening track of The Resistance, ‘Uprising,’ and of course arguably their best-known and most commercially successful song, ‘Knights of Cydonia.’ Unsurprisingly, the latter had the ground well and truly jumping and singing along, and was the only fitting end to such an overwhelming night of music.
The feeling afterward was of pure elation, even as the crowd shuffled through almost ankle-deep remnants of streamers and confetti across the arena floor. One doesn’t see rock shows of that scale very often these days, but they’re not dead yet.