London by Day, Muse by Night [Muse Drones World Tour Review]

‘Nothing could quell my excitement for the show. I felt the anticipation radiating from my loins.’

by Dan Anderson

At the time of writing this I find myself in the old familiar surroundings of London Victoria Coach Station. I was last seen here with none other than Mr Joshua Perrett, who I understand has recently been deported to Scotland by dear old Mr Pumpcock. On that occasion we had spent over an hour traipsing through West London with heavy festival rucksacks on. This time around I have just an overnight bag and walked 10 minutes to this terminal from the local tube station. I’d love to say this vast improvement represents some wisdom or even just reasonable memory, but in reality I was just given clear directions to get here by my girlfriend Sophie from her place, which just scrapes onto the tube network as the last stop on the Central line. Despite the contrasting fortunes of my last two journeys here, there is one key similarity: I once again sit here the day after seeing a Muse gig. I am happily able to reflect on the experience more comfortably than the journey home from the Rock Werchter festival that entailed a 6+ hour coach journey either side of a ferry crossing. That was all in excruciating heat which caused our rust bucket coach to conk out and the aforementioned scramble through West London. With no such trouble this time around, I am safely able to pass not only the show but the whole day in our capital as a great experience…

With the support act not due until around 7, Sophie and I found ourselves with an entire afternoon to fritter, so naturally we decided to sample the high culture of London within the iconic and moreover free admitting National Gallery. Though we spent a mere 10 minutes there, I have rarely seen as many 2D flower images, although I hear James May has made some highly evocative additions to his shirt rail for the breakaway motoring show with Messrs Clarkson and Hammond (title currently unknown, although I rather liked ‘Gear Knobs’). We then elected to visit the Natural History Museum where my personal highlights included an 8x to scale model foetus, an assortment of jars containing preserved, dead mammals, and on the way out a sighting of Cherries winger Juan Iturbe who I suspect may have exhausted Bournemouth’s daytime leisure activities/tourist attractions catering to the 18-30 age demographic, and was seeking further thrills within the world renowned museum. You’re only human, Juan, Dippy the Dinosaur entices us all.

Muse Drones World Tour at the 02 Arena 2016.
Muse amid a maelstrom of lights.

With our intellectual enrichment complete it was time to head for the O2 Arena. Boarding the tube at rush hour made for a crowded journey but nothing could quell my excitement for the show. I felt the anticipation radiating from my loins. After a quick bite to eat, we finally entered the arena and found our seats. For about a half hour we reflected on our exploits within the city that day and tried to stay awake. But any notion of slumber was decimated with the emergence of support band Phantogram. I had not been overly focused on them in the lead up to the gig, but I was roundly impressed by their versatile use of the electronic rock genre. I have left a link for their ‘Vevo’ channel on YouTube and would recommend a listen, particularly if you are inclined towards electronic pop/rock music from artists such as Jack Garratt or Chvrches.

With my musical pallet moistened like a bowl of wet spaghetti, it was nearly time for the main event. First there was an interval where on top of standard concert sound checks, there were blokes on climbing harnesses helping to prepare the outlandish production that comes with a Muse show. And then they were out, rising onto the stage from beneath, drummer Dom Howard in the centre, with bassist Chris Wolstenholme and frontman Matt Bellamy each occupying a platform at the end of outward facing runways. In the lead up to the show, I had heard negative criticisms of this ‘in the round’ style on the basis that it was disengaging for the audience. However I had no such qualms, and in fact rather enjoyed the ever-changing perspective of the show as Bellamy and Wolstenholme both made good use of the setup, which also included the circular centre of the stage rotating. This innovative layout was wonderfully complemented by range of lasers, screens and projections. Bellamy has been quoted that the band aim merely to break even on their tours, allowing them to spend heavily on production and therefore give the fans maximum entertainment value. This was definitely apparent from where I was sitting, but I expected nothing less from a band who have for years been at the very forefront of live production innovation, certainly within the rock and alternative scene.

Muse's Drones World Tour at the 02 Arena in 2016.
Muse amid a maelstrom of balls.

Stunned as I was by the aesthetics, it was crucially the music that most enthralled me in this epic show. Although I do not regard the Drones album as highly as at least three of the band’s albums from the previous decade, it ultimately carried into this tour favourably. Drones’ ‘concept album’ status has deeper themes of empathy and the worrying destiny of man (and they’re right to be worried, just look at Tiny Eyes). But on the surface it’s about scary military machines killing the shit out of everything and this translates well into arena rock music. Songs such as ‘The Handler’ and ‘Reapers’ went down a storm as the guitar work and pounding drums reverberated through the O2. This alone was enough to make a great gig, however what truly made this a special show with an unforgettable atmosphere were the more staple songs of the band’s repertoire – ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, ‘Citizen Erased’ and of course the final song ‘Knights of Cydonia’. These are examples of songs from the last decade that have developed into alt rock anthems and were delivered with some aplomb.

However, amongst all of the musical and visual highlights, I am able to pick out one in particular. After an introduction comprising of two new songs, Bellamy toyed with the crowd, deploying some call and response joviality with his signature ‘Cort Manson’ guitar. It seemed heavily equalized… Did I know that tone…? It could be… It must be… And there it was, just 3 songs deep into the set and out came ‘Plug In Baby’. It had been a far from subdued start to the gig, and this took it up a gear or three. Seemingly everybody seated in the arena rose as one and helped belt out the iconic song, this year coming up on its fifteenth birthday. As 20,000 voices belted out the opening of the second chorus I briefly took in the surge of humanity taking place around me inside this dome, free from the terror and vitriol which everyday seems to consume our world. This in retrospect was probably an entirely subjective view of a long time Muse fan. Despite this, I think it does serve to highlight the incredible level of blissful escapism that live music can take you to.

My one small criticism of this show was a lack of B-sides and rarities. The band have a great arsenal of go-to gig staples that they have cultivated over the last 20 or so years and that’s great. However some of their excellent, lesser known work seems to have been lost along the way. Cult favourites such as ‘Agitated’ and ‘Fury’ had made rare set list appearances on the small scale warm up tour last year, but I like many fans long to see songs such as these wheeled out for regular plays rather than being consigned to the history books.

Overall I was very satisfied with what I saw. The indoor arena setting allowed me to experience Muse’s full capacity for spectacular production for the first time and the music more than matched the theatrics. I had been concerned in the run up to the show that the guys were getting a little ‘long in the tooth’ (like Gollop‘s long Carroty fingers) for live performance. But the Teignmouth trio proved once again that they are amongst the very top rock bands in the UK and the world.

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