By Eric Pulsifer
Editor’s note: This article was originally published October 5, 2013
I’d never seen Muse live before tonight — intentionally. I wouldn’t say I disliked Muse; I’d just say I didn’t care too much if I saw them Friday night at ACL Fest or really if they ever performed again. When I talked to people who had seen Muse, I noticed a common theme: They get really excited about the Muse experience. It’s a big-budget summer blockbuster of a rock concert with an insane light show, they say. But, for all this talk about the lights and the spectacle, no one mentioned anything about the band being good. Having doubts about everything except Muse’s ability to hire a really good lighting guy, I marched toward the Samsung Galaxy stage hoping to be proven wrong.
Then there was the waiting. Waiting, waiting and then a few minutes after 8:30 p.m., Muse took to the stage. Queens of the Stone Age was running long on the nearby Bud Light Stage, but the Muse crowd went wild as a furious wave of amplified guitar rang out. Then, it stopped. The sound was gone, and the band left the stage. For the next 20 minutes, the crowd around me chatted, forging theories about what had just happened. Did the sound guy cut them off for trying to play over Queens of the Stone Age? Did these English juggernauts of summer festival rock wreck ACL Fest’s speaker setup with a few strums of guitar? Should we have gone to see Depeche Mode instead?
Then, minutes before 9 p.m., frontman Matthew Bellamy returned to the stage. He explained that the band’s generator had run out of oil just as they were beginning. Bad timing, he joked, and the band dove head first back into set opener "Supremacy." Bellamy and bassist Christopher Wolstenholme, in their toughest tough guy rock stances, stood wide with guitar and bass guitar chugging out in unison what could have passed for an early Metallica riff that gave way to what sounded like the score to a western. Before the song was even over, I began to wonder (and Google) if Bellamy was actually singing — not because I had any reason to believe he would be lip syncing (and, to be clear, I’m not accusing him of it), but because the guy’s quivering high-pitched vibrato just doesn’t seem like something someone should be able to summon on command so effortlessly. Well played, Muse. You have my attention.
As the set continued — moving from "Supermassive Black Hole," a tune with distorted guitar and crunchy percussion that registered to my ears like Maroon 5 trying to cover Megadeath, to "Hysteria," where Bellamy waved his guitar with Badger-like helicopter sign spinning skill — on song closer after song closer the ending came with a that stadium-rock standard flurry of drum and guitar, with fingers piled up and noodling around on the last inch of the guitar neck. There were crowd sing-a-longs, a grand piano (Was that on stage the whole time?) and, of course, as I had been promised, there was quite a light show. The band was backed by razor sharp high-def screens and an unnecessary but awesome amount of lasers, fog and smoke.
An hour after the set started, halfway through "Survival" the sound dropped out again (either from the aforementioned generator or a sound guy not-so subtly letting the band know they had passed their 10 p.m. stopping point), but the band came out once again to close with "Knights of Cydonia."
When it was all was said and done, I only had a few gripes. After being spoiled by speed runs at classical-inspired heavy metal arpeggios, falsettos soaring at the edge of outer space and an array of laser lights, I was just bored with "Starlight" and its dopey radio-friendly simplicity. (It sounds like a bad Coldplay song). Then there was "Madness," a selection that got the biggest reaction from the crowd but a song I found painfully dull. Lastly (and this is more of an observation than a complaint): It might be because I had just heard Queens of the Stone Age playing, but the opening of Muse’s "Liquid State" sounded suspiciously similar to the start of Queens of the Stone Age’s "Millionaire."
It looked to me like Muse attracted the youngest crowd I’d seen at Zilker all day. (If you’re looking for selfies of fest-goers with Muse playing in the background, I suspect the hashtag "Muse" is a good place to start your search on Instagram.)
For the longest time I wasn’t sure if Muse wanted to be Radiohead, U2 or Queen. Now, after seeing them live, I get the feeling Muse is more like a Def Leppard for young millennials. They’ve taken the long-haired guitar-driven majesty of metal from its ’80s heyday, striped away the scary bits and packaged it in an easy-to-digest, stadium-filling package.
Despite any skepticism I had about the musical merits of Muse as a live band before tonight, Bellamy’s voice and guitar work was impressive and worth the walk to the far end of the Great Lawn. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. Though fans I talked with beforehand focused on lighting and pyrotechnics rather than their musical chops, Muse’s live show far exceeded my entertainment expectations — which were low based off their relatively sterile, squeaky-clean produced records — thanks to putting the focus on larger-than-life guitar play. And, yes, a killer light show.
2. Supermassive Black Hole
3. The Star-Spangled Banner
5. Panic Station
6. Plug In Baby
7. Stockholm Syndrome
8. Follow Me
9. Liquid State
11. Time Is Running Out
12. Unnatural Selection
13. The 2nd Law: Isolated System
17. Knights of Cydonia