Muse – World tour 2009 / 2010

Prologue:

“Alright, so first thing on the list: Lights. We need blinders to illuminate the crowd. Usually we use simple, strong lights for that. Fuck that. Let’s use LED’s. Small disks with huge LED’s will do the trick. Next up: Spotlights. MAC2000 Moving Heads? Do they have LED’s? No MACs, then. I want those bigger ones. They have LED’s inside. Then! Video… Could we make three huge columns to project upon? Not realistically doable you say? … Oh fuck it, let’s make them LED walls.”

-“We don’t nearly have enough lights.”

-“Let them eat… lasers.”

I can’t tell you much about building the set for the latest tour of Muse, because I wasn’t there. I was outside on forklift duty, numb from the cold and rain, unloading one truck after the other. Despite my location, I didn’t see any sun at all because we started at six AM (which meant I had to get up around four) and finished around two in the morning again. Why yes, I am a little tired right now, thanks for asking.
Here’s the good news, though: apparently I’m a pretty okay forklift operator. I got compliments from several sources, one of which was a Dutch colleague telling me,

“God Damn! If you fuck like you fork, I’m going to introduce you to my wife so she will finally leave me alone.”

That’s the Dutch, for you. I took it as a compliment.

I am sure fans will agree when I say Muse approach perfection in many, if not all, aspects of music making. Regardless if you like them or not, their quality is undeniable and their live performance has won several prizes. Their sound varies widely from electronic to progressive rock, despite them only being with 3 members.

But enough wikipedia.

The quality put into the creative process translates itself into anything Muse related. This is not the first time I do their gig and just as last time, I noticed that everything about the performance was just that tiny bit better. From speakers over lights to their microphone stands, the whole production was elevated to an impressive level. This projection of awesomeness was continued in the audience. I always find it a true pleasure to see fans dance and have fun even before the concert has started.

Which is why the support act is such an unforgivable mistake.
This get-together of new wave mouthbreathers called The Horrors or whatever, served as little more than a nuisance. On top of that, the actual main act started 20 minutes late and it’s easy to see the excitement in the crowd die down. Whenever the background music went quiet, which is mind you after every song, the crowd gave a round of applause in hopes of the show finally starting. They don’t know what to look for, you see- nothing will happen until the front of house technicians stop fucking around and actually prepare, or light signals are given from the stage area.

But when it finally started, the kick-off was breathtaking. It is so much more impressive than the band simply walking on stage, when the curtain drops and the music explodes after a slow building of tension and remarkable visual effects. The line-up was strong and well thought out, keeping the fans on a constant high. Not only was the round stage loaded with high end technology, they knew how to use it, too.

On top of their usual deliverance of quality, it seems that someone had decided to scoop some quantity on top of it. The LED videowall set was immense and raised the impression that you were looking up at an enormous and heavy structure with the artists dead in the middle of it. The use of the lights and lasers (although the latter were often way over the top) was effective and impressive, and the audience’s response managed to impose time and time again.

It is so painfully ironic then, that the weakest link… was the band itself. Hard-core fans wouldn’t have seen it and it took me a few songs in to even notice, but the energy in the trio itself was far from satisfactory. In fact, it was rubbish.
The singer Matthew James Bellamy didn’t take time to share more than a few incomprehensible words with the people. He simply moved from one strategically placed microphone to the next, and did his little thing there before moving on. Granted, it was an impressive little thing, but if you expect the local fans there to go home satisfied, you better give them some personal attention.
Bassist Christopher Wolstenholme walked the stage like my father does when in “tourist mode” in the south of France: an aimless kind of stroll without a care in the world and a pair of whining kids in his wake. Minus the children. Did his thing, fucked his groupies, went to bed. Another day at the office.
Dominic Howard, whom you would only see from the back when his drum riser rotated towards the unlucky few in the VIP seats behind stage, was the only one actually talking to the place once in a little while- if he wasn’t cut off by Matthew ordering him to can it (off the mic, of course). And when he did, it sounded something like “Show me those cell phones, let’s light up this lovely venue.” I’d be genuinely surprised if he even knew what country he was in, let alone which venue. He didn’t sound a single bit interested, either, making the fuckmillion little stars in the inky darkness of the Sportpaleis a far more interesting given than his voice.

My colleagues disagreed and found it a spectacular show, and the admirers present might locate and lynch me for saying this, but I was disappointed. The gig was carried by the technicians, which rapes the point of a live act.
If this was supposed to be a visual interpretation of Muse and their music, I would be thoroughly impressed. The one thing that they could have left out was those kids playing onstage.

Getting home was a challenge, by the way. It’s been a while since I feared for my life but when my driver falls asleep in front of a red light twice and rams the curb before you even made it out of Antwerp, I think twice about dozing off as I usually do. But, I made it alive and hopefully, so did he. The only thing that died that night, was Muse’s credibility. Rest in peace.

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