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Muse – Live at Wembley Stadium, London June 16th 2007 (Live Concert Review)

The last time I was at Wembley Stadium was in 2000, when Oasis were touring their disappointing 4th studio album (‘Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants’), and Liam turned up drunk and drawled his way through their set. Fast-forward 7 years and the Gallaghers and Co. have started to rest on their laurels and other bands are coming into their own. Muse, for one, have grown from strength to strength, leaving behind their Radiohead-lite similarities (due to debut album ‘Showbiz’ echoing both ‘The Bends’ and ‘OK Computer’) for more original (yet still pompously tongue-in-cheek and overblown (especially live)) musical output. Indeed, like Radiohead, Muse can nowadays easily – maybe TOO easily – sell out huge arena tours in Europe as well as triumphantly (and some would say automatically) be crowned live band/show of the year through their many heralded festival appearances: see their first headlining slot at Glastonbury 2004 or last years charged performance at the Reading Carling Festival for evidence.

Muse, y’see, don’t play it safe, and it’s this danger, tinged with excitement, that appeals to audiences both young and old (and there are plenty of both here today, showing that an age gap is unimportant). Muse are known for their typically over-the-top energetic live shows and now, in a newly redesigned Wembley Stadium, this is gonna be one immense show. In fact, there is absolutely no expense spared tonight, and not one trick missed from the Big Book of Stadium Gig Props. Every stadium pyrotechnic is utilized, be it the numerous large (and I do mean large) video screens that flank the huge stage, or the fountains of flame, showers of sparks, green lasers, spotlights (yellow bastard offspring of the Bat Signal), comically oversized satellites and antenna, a see-through piano and other instruments bedecked in glow-in-the-dark bedazzlement, transparent mini-balloons filled with glitter and confetti and even, in the second encore (yup, they do TWO!), 2 acrobats luxuriously hanging from floating balloons dropping glitter on the audience below. Really.

The circus is complete when the band, wrong-footing the 70,000-strong audience, emerges from the middle of the stadium in a volcano of glitter to the sound of the opening theme from “Romeo & Juliet” by Sergei Prokofiev. You know, the theme tune for the reality TV show ‘The Apprentice’. Ho hum. Guitarist Matt Bellamy, drummer Dom Howard and bassist Chris Wolstenholme excitedly – yet languorously – walk to the stage and open with the cowboy shoot-out epic that is ‘Knights of Cydonia’; “No one’s gonna take me alive / The time has come to make things right” indeed. It’s a great opener (as well as a promising sign of things to come) and, followed by oppressive fuzz-bass of ‘Hysteria’, seriously, it’s downright amazing. But the tempo doesn’t let up yet, as they then proceed to blast into the Britney Spears Toxic-esque ‘Supermassive Black Hole’, introduced as a song “for those who like R&B”, and the video screens are all at once emblazoned with red marching toy robots dancing to the thunderous rhythm.

New single ‘Map of the Problematique’ gradually builds, weaving its complex drum and bass lines, tinkling piano and Kate Bush choral arrangement. The minute-long intro itself is pure perfection, but the fact that it’s the last of 4 standout songs is pure bliss. No pun intended, cos they don’t play that song tonight. The vibe is intense, so palpable in fact that the chaos descends into a muted calm, as ‘City of Delusion’ and a mighty ‘Butterflies and Hurricanes’ unfurl. Strangely, this stop/start dynamic continues throughout the 2 hour set, with a heavy rockier song following a more melancholy introspective moment which, in part, manages to lull the audience: this dichotomy of a lively atmosphere being constructed and knocked down and then rebuilt and so on is interesting but also, well, a bit distracting and unnecessary. Muse just need to rock when they play live, that’s all we ask; keep all the quiet and slow stuff for the albums we play at home.

Matt moves on to the piano for beautiful renditions of ‘Feeling Good’ (complete with gloriously sunny video clips of birds and flowers in the park on a perfect relaxing day out), ‘Sunburn’ (introduced as “the very first song on our very first album”) and ‘Invincible’. Strapping on his electric guitar again, Matt dedicates a handclap-led ‘Starlight’ (reminiscent of Freddie Mercury handclapping Queen’s ‘Radio Ga Ga’ at Live Aid at this very same stadium 22 years ago) to those at the back. It’s another strikingly unified moment, but without Bob Geldof moaning. The double-punch of a magnificently funky ‘Time Is Running Out’ and ‘New Born’ finish the main show, but we know – demand – that there’s more to come.

The first encore brings out an all the more subdued set of songs on acoustic guitar, and Matt changing from his blood red suit and white T-shirt combo to a jacket and jeans for ‘Soldier’s Poem’. Two songs later and then it’s all hands to the decks for an apocalypse-baiting ‘Plug In Baby’. Encore number 2 sees the trio genuinely grateful for the opportunity to play at the new venue, let alone that they’re “the first to sell out Wembley-fucking-Stadium”. A chugging ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and ‘Take A Bow’ finish the set, and even the dreary English rain can’t spoil what we’ve all just seen.

“I’m not breaking down / I’m breaking out / Last chance to lose control”

By J M Ross.