Muse, Earls Court, London

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The Independent Culture

You've got to hand it to Matt Bellamy and his small but loud band of angst-rockers. The Teignmouth trio will not deviate from their mission. Muse are in the house, and they have come to pummel us into submission.

Bellamy, the choppy-haired demon guitarist and classical pianist, also possesses the proudest and shrillest falsetto in rock. Lesser mortals might shrink from the naked ambition of proclaiming, "We've got to become a proper arena-rock band", as Bellamy did recently. But then, it's difficult to imagine Muse ever practising in their mum's front room in their precocious formative years. At times, Earls Court seems as much as part of the band as Bellamy and co.

Despite the best efforts of Chris Wolstenholme's tumbling bass at the low end, the group are in ear-ringing form. Even the cheers of the Muse faithful appear to be resounding in those pealing upper registers. Not strong on variety, Muse's songs do tend to follow similar trajectories. Just when you think they're about to get uncharacteristically meditative, a thunder begins to brew with Wagnerian fury, and they ascend into the maelstrom. The Gothic atmospherics of "Sing for Absolution" offer a brief respite from the fierce howl-around, but from then on, it's back to all-out attack.

On the eighth day, God said: "Let there be prog." To acknowledge that commandment, Bellamy is draped and crêped in a lurid red frock coat. It's an inspired choice, perfectly in tune with the pomp and circumstance of his classically inspired riffing. Indeed, the band are unabashed in their ambition to marry grandiose symphonics to screeching rock, even citing Rachmaninov as the inspiration behind "Space Dementia". Stop smirking at the back there.

In directional terms, Muse are often positioned in the netherworld of Radiohead-north by Queen-north-west, an unlikely mix of the remorseful and the overblown. Lacking the suspicion of the former and the showbiz camp of the latter, Muse are more accurately a little bit miffed and a tad joyless.

The pricey-looking visuals kick seriously into gear once the big fear of "Sunburn" lets fly. This is high-concept music, a soundtrack for earth-shattering meteorites to fall into Manhattan. Though the dominant Muse themes are dread, guilt and apocalypse, these preoccupations are writ large and are kind of fun, like conspiracy theories and ghost stories.

There is no hiding-place. As football punditry might have it, the Muse boys have good engines. When Bellamy isn't throwing one of his dizzying but careworn array of guitars into a grateful crowd, he is lording it over his bank of keyboards. No one can truly say what devils are driving him, but somewhere, surely, Keith Emerson is looking down and smiling.

A generous five-song encore (including Bellamy's own favourite, "Bliss", and a bleak, unforgiving "Dark Star") concludes with the singer wishing all present a happy Christmas. Festive balloons drop from nets - all shaded in mortuary black. Cheer up, lads - it might never happen.

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