Within five seconds, you can understand what happened in Coventry. Six nights previously, as Muse warmed up for the Midlands instalment of their 2nd Law Tour with some stage-set rehearsal, the good citizens of that town feared that their Ricoh Arena was on fire, and alerted the authorities. As the music grinds to a stuttering, screeing start and giant transformer-pillars atop a bank of TV screens begin to belch flames hot enough to flash-fry your face even in the cheap seats, their confusion seems natural.
Yes, Muse have made a career out of being The Pomp Band, the Devon boys unafraid to grasp that U2/Queen mantle and sew an extra layer of industrial-prog sequins onto the collar. They’ve also, thanks to pint-sized proggy hearthrob and part-time tinfoil-hat brigade member Matt Bellamy, never been short of a conspiracy theory concept or a bit of enjoyably hamfisted political claptrap. And so, tonight's show incorporates cartoons of Putin, Merkel, Cameron et al funky-dancing across a globe on the big screen, some game actors done up as deranged traders guzzling petrol from a pump and throwing £13 notes into the air, and quite brilliantly, a trapeze artist emerging from the base of a giant lightbulb balloon. Oh, and a giant robot. And lots, lots more pyro.
It's a show, alright, often reminiscent of U2 at their most Zoo TV-overblown and daftly brilliant. In terms of Muse’s music, though, it’s a long set, and varies in quality. It begins well, with the divinely ridiculous 'Supermassive Black Hole', a shunting, lurching robobeast of a single. When things get more serious, attention can lag. Or rather, they always seem to fall between two stools. When they're silly for the sake of it, stompy and rompy, they're brilliant: so "Knights Of Cydonia" and the sci-fi singalong anthems "Uprising’ and ‘Resistance". And when they're full-on do-or-die serious, living up to their original role as inheritors of Radiohead's Bends/OK Computer era angst-rock, they can touch sublime heights of drama ("Bliss", "Sunburn", "Our Time Is Running Out"). It’s in between those two extremes where they begin to bore despite all the fire and flash, with the painfully Keane-ish slow jam "Undisclosed Desires" or the frankly yawnsome "Animals".
Tonight, though, they’re sensible enough to keep it mostly to their strengths, and you can’t argue with the front-to-back mass mosh that greets old favourite "Plug In Baby". Indeed, you’d probably raise a fond eyebrow at the grand ridiculousness of it all, if they hadn’t been burned off.