Listen to Austin 360 Radio

ACL Fest scene report: Depeche Mode vs. Muse

Deborah Sengupta

Editor’s note: This article was originally published October 12, 2013

One woman. Two bands. Two hours. 3,000 special effects. 60,000 some compadres.

8 p.m. Following a brief rain shower the sky is surprisingly clear and the ground doesn’t seem too soggy. An industrial strum from the Ladybird Lake stage announces the beginning of Depeche Mode’s set. As they break into “Welcome to My World” followed by “Angel” it becomes clear that they’re (unsurprisingly) following the same set list from last week, a set well-documented by Joe Gross here. The set encompasses a lot of late-catalog material I’m not super familiar with.

8:10 p.m. As the band segues into “Walking in My Shoes” it’s clear that Dave Gahan really is in top form, strutting across the stage like guy-liner never went out of style, which who knows, maybe it didn’t (see also, teen vampires, Blue October). The rainbow colored circles on the jumbotron strike an odd contrast to the darkness of the band’s material.

8:15 p.m. A moderate exodus to the other side of the field begins as fans jockey for good positioning for Muse.

8:20 p.m. Wait, is that a Labradoodle on the jumbotron? As the band plays “Precious” with the lyric “Precious and fragile things/Need special handling/My god, what have we done to you” a series of sad looking dogs flash across the screen. Is this some sort of SPCA thing? So confused.

8:25 p.m. The band drops into “Policy of Truth” and the backdrop shifts to a black graphic pyramid graphic, which seems more appropriate.

8:26 p.m. A sea of people are crossing the field, closing in on the Samsung stage. From the hill by the photo frame you get a full picture of Muse’s draw and it’s impressive to say the least.

8:30 p.m. Catching the blistering end of QoTSA’s set on the Bud Light stage is not a bad thing at all. Nice touch with the bats alighting on the screen.

8:35 p.m. The jumbotron on the Samsung stage fades out Haim singing “Don’t Save Me” and a highly dramatic instrumental intro combined with the most impressive video display of the fest signal the beginning of Muse’s set. Er, hello future.

8:40 p.m. That would be the sound of me catching on to Muse. These dudes are shooting 40,000 watts of operatic appeal across the field as they build the song “Supremacy.”

8:44 p.m. I can even get into the high concept rock thing they’re doing. Fight the robot overlords (or something)!

8:51 p.m. A heavily distorted Hendrix-style national anthem gives way to a brutal bass line. These guys are rock monsters. They’re killing “Hysteria.”

8:56 p.m. Is that some sort of weird Barack Obama/Uncle Sam bobble head animation dancing on screen?

8:59 p.m. Lead singer Matthew Bellamy shouts, “Texas you’re our favorite state in the United States.” I bet he says that to all the states. Never mind, the band has slowed down and he’s tugging hard on our emotional heart strings.

9:09 p.m. Quick pit stop. No wait at the port-a-potties by the Zilker Tent and while I wouldn’t touch anything in there, I’m impressed that it’s stocked with not one but two fresh rolls of toilet paper. Big ups to c3 on the amenitites game.

9:15 p.m. Back at Depeche Mode’s set the vocals fade out on “Shake the Disease” then in kicks the synth pop. Emotional whiplash, sure but the crowd “Just Can’t Get Enough.”

9:18 p.m. Singalong breakdown is a flog. Guy next to me, “This crowd is the worst.” But they’re dancing. Also, I think Gahan did the Miley Cyrus tongue at the end of the song which surely means he’s having fun.

9:25 p.m. During a lull in Depeche’s set I can hear Muse playing “Madness.” I’m not the only one who tries to book to the other end of the field leaving Gahan to take a ride with his best friend.

9:32 p.m. Both stages are hemorrhaging fans despite excellent sets. There’s something to be said for beating the crowd. (#old)

9:37 p.m. With a backdrop of at least 100 stacked TVs I think Muse is making a statement about media saturation while putting on the best multimedia show of the weekend.

9:44 p.m. With “Uprising” Muse has dropped the throttle on the operatic concept rock. Fans are going nuts. “They will not control us/We will be victorious,” Bellamy sings. Insanity ensues. Fight the robot overlords (or something)!

9:48 p.m. I feel like I should do a final check in on Depeche Mode’s set, but Muse is utterly engrossing — in a way that only feels slightly like I just inadvertently joined a cult.

9:53 p.m. With “Starlight (Black Holes & Revelations) the Muse crowd clearly wins the singalong contest.

9:56 p.m. That thing where Muse channels Queen then strobe lights the field turning it up to 11 in a flurry of guitar screeches pounding drums. Surely, nothing can top this.

9:59 p.m. They bring in the haunting strains of a harmonica. Then the harmonica is tossed to the audience and they’re rocking again. Half the crowd books for the exit while the other half is fixed in place. Because this is Austin, a hula girls dances by herself with a brightly lit hoop.

10:02 p.m. With a flurry of sound we make our final stand against the robot overlords (or something), and I realize that somehow in the last hour I completely abandoned my plan for serious “Violator” nostalgia and became a Muse fan. And I’m totally ok with that.

UPDATE: This story has been updated to correct a song title.