Muse is not a band for stripping things down. Last night at the first of three concerts at Staples Center in Los Angeles, the British trio kept its reputation intact for flash and sweeping rock gestures. It was the second night of the band's U.S. tour behind The 2nd Law, Muse's sixth studio album, and it was heavy with ambitious new songs between heroic, earth-shuddering hits from the last dozen years.
Hardly a critical favorite, Muse is frequently dismissed as a band hewing too closely to their influences and replacing subtlety with helium-fueled intensity. But they know how to fill a stage, delivering their songs with energy and obsession, performing beneath an endlessly morphing pyramid of lights, lasers and flashing images.
Muse mingled brooding electronics with epic Queen-like flourishes and an of-the-moment taste of dubstep on The 2nd Law's "Unsustainable," which opened the show. One radio hit from the new album is "Madness," performed at human-scale as a gospel/U2 hybrid, in contrast to the explosive visuals: purple and blue lasers firing above the crowd and Matt Bellamy's dark glasses, with lenses that helpfully flashed lyrics for fans to sing along to the singer's breathless, emotional reading.
Bellamy fell to his knees in a dramatic gesture to the discothèque swirl of "Follow Me," another of several songs from the new album. Later, he climbed a slowly rotating drum riser with his guitar as bassist Christopher Wolstenholme took center stage to belt out a howling "Liquid State," also from The 2nd Law.
Muse standard "Knights of Cydonia" began with Wolstenholme blowing a locomotive wheeze on harmonica as the band slipped into a prog-surf riff. From there, Muse swung backwards on a relatively restrained "Explorers," a ballad from the new album performed by Bellamy on grand piano. On the Depeche Mode-ish "Undisclosed Desires," Bellamy waded into the front rows, before returning to giddy hysteria on "Time Is Running Out." He yelled "Come on!" and the crowd joined in singing the chorus.
Near the end, a noisy "Stockholm Syndrome" bordered on metal, and the band closed out with a blast of Rage Against the Machine's "Freedom" riff, as a mountain of flashing TV screens engulfed them. Part of their set since last year, it was also a nod to the Los Angeles band Muse shared a stadium stage with at RATM's monumental L.A. Rising festival in 2011.
Following the rousing agit-pop of "Uprising" came the band's two-song encore, beginning with the romantic pop of "Starlight." But everything that Muse encompasses came together in the defiant "Survival," originally written as the official song from the last year's summer Olympic games in London. It was performed at Staples amid piano bombast, slashing guitar and geysers of fog, just as the fans like it.
Muse could also surprise. Rather than triumphant athletes filling the screens, the band gave the song an unexpected new context with animation of businessmen marching to the "Survival" beat as Bellamy wailed, "Life is a race, and I am gonna win!"
"Super Massive Black Hole"
"Knights of Cydonia"
"Time Is Running Out"
"Plug in Baby"