You have to hand it to Muse: they might look just like three blokes from Devon, but they know how to take charge of an arena. That much is obvious from the start of their three-night stand at Wembley.
As the drummer emerges from a cocooned satellite dish and the light show seems to channel the entire national grid, the trio's diminutive firebrand-cum-crackpot of a singer, Matt Bellamy, spits out the anti-Bush protest-prog tirade of "Take a Bow". As he reaches the chorus, the audience throw their heads back as one and howl: "You will burn! In hell! For your sins!" As openers go, it beats "Good evening, Wembley!" hands down.
Muse's unfettered bravado has always been oddly refreshing. In 1999, when the post-"cool Britannia" doldrums left British pop music encumbered with trad-rock faint-hearts, the Teignmouth trio offered a defiantly un-cool, prog-rock-flavoured racket that fused the combined spirits of Rush, Queen and Radiohead with 21st-century takes on themes of conspiracy and a symphonic scope of their own. Each new song seemed to build on their passion for Berlioz-gone-metal excess, but after listening to the likes of Travis whinge on about the rain, you couldn't help but warm to a band who seemed to fancy they could harness the elements.
Even now, Muse's distance from most of pop music's buzz-points (Pete Doherty's interminable drug habit, the "emo wars", various shades of new-wave revisionism) is a point in their favour. On top of that, their fourth studio album, Black Holes and Revelations, really is revelatory. If its apocalyptic predecessor, Absolution, was one for the doom-metal faithful, Revelations spreads its net over a battery of styles and masters them all with punch and panache, from the Morricone-on-Mars metal of " Knights of Cydonia" to the super-catchy space-funk of " Supermassive Black Hole".
Tonight's show easily exceeds Muse's recorded output for pomp and drama, though. The pylons and satellites of the stage set are designed to mimic the HAARP (High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program) installation in Alaska - a focus point-cum-gift for conspiratorial theorising about governmental mind-control - but they aren't the half of it.
Bellamy is dressed down in slick black, but he takes to his team-leader task with scant restraint. He doesn't so much play his guitar as manhandle it to within an inch of its life, and he sings in a falsetto that would give Freddie Mercury the willies. For the Fantasia-esque opening of "New Born ", he reverts to a bright, white piano and teases out glissandos while footage of rushing stars pours over the stage, making him look like a rock Liberace in orbit.
It's stirring stuff, and the crowd responds accordingly. For the agit-metal of "Assassin" and the writhing squall of "Plug In Baby", black holes of moshing appear among the audience. There's no let-up, and the thrill of the show centres on the band's fabulously fearless willingness to push every track to the edge of chaos before reining it back in again.
They write great pop songs these days, too. "Supermassive" grunge-grinds to cheeky, floor-quaking effect, proving that the trio have a wit to match their flair for mayhem. The cascading piano chords, romantic pop and space-flight imagery of "Starlight" hit you like a rush of blood to the heart, leaving the likes of Keaneplay on the launch pad. And, slotted neatly into the middle of tonight's set, the slow-burning " Invincible" essays all-in-this-together anthemics to rousing effect.
It ends as it should, of course, with Bellamy surfing on his amplifier and trashing his guitar before returning for the set-closer, "Knights of Cydonia". Plumes of white smoke line the front of the stage as Muse gallop heroically to its conclusion. Over the top? For sure, but when it comes to poncho-rock paeans to pyramids in space, Muse are truly in a universe of their own.
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