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Review: Muse, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London


Stadiums and festival main stages are Muse’s typical performing spaces – in May, they embark on their biggest stadium tour yet – but at tonight’s special concert for War Child, they play to just 2,000 people.

Not that the power-prog-rock trio from Devon seem to have noticed: the volume  is turned up to the max, and frontman Matt Bellamy is posturing  emphatically as though surrounded by towering pyrotechnics or the mind-bending productions and light displays that usually adorn their stages.

From opening number “Supermassive Black Hole”, they throw their all into a performance spanning their career. Live, they have everything: the songs, power, shifting dynamics, an abundance  of stage presence, and that most  elusive quality of all in rock: flawless musicianship.

Tonight, they embrace their heavier prog-rock side with the guitars to match: bassist Chris Wolstenholme’s futuristic bass guitar – a double-necked beast that is played by stroking a lit-up screen, while Bellamy brandishes a shiny silver guitar and another with a changing-coloured light, which he wields dramatically as he falls to his knees, at one point allowing the fans to strum.

Bellamy can work a crowd. In the cinematic “Follow Me”, building synths (from touring member Morgan Nicholls), a thundering bass line and drummer Dominic Howard’s impressive shifting beats, mid  dexterous noodles of guitar, Bellamy raises his arms to a clap, the crowd following like putty in his hands.

Even their less exciting numbers, such as the melodramatic “Explorers” with its overwrought lyrics, “free me from this world”, are carried by the band’s convincing performance and tight precision, as are bombastic songs that should not add up, such as the piano-led “United States of Eurasia” with its fusion of Ravel’s Bolero with Freddie Mercury and shades of Paul McCartney. Its ending? Bellamy jumping on to the piano and dancing on the keys.

It’s Bellamy’s musicianship that most astounds. Even when taking masterful turns on piano or guitar, his octave-spanning vocals rise to a powerful falsetto, made even more expressive by gasps of air.

Most songs come from their latest album, The 2nd Law, but they throw in numbers from across their career. The cascading cycling piano opening of “Sunburn”, from their debut album, prompts a feverish response. Bellamy’s proficiency on piano is striking, its clattering keys at the end playing out like a rock opera.

“The mass singalong of “Plug In Baby” is another ecstatic moment, brought to a petulant close when Bellamy hurls his malfunctioning guitar into the drums. But after such an awe-inspiring show he can get away with anything.”