SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 3: Muse

This was the big semi-secret headlining slot that had been rumored throughout the week, with a blank in the Friday night Stubbs schedule hinting at a special surprise. Arena headliners Muse did indeed appear at 10 pm (filling the slot held by Metallica last year), and delivered an electrifying set that wowed the packed throng.

The Brit prog-rock power trio hit the stage with the anthemic “Uprising” and never let up throughout a furious 75-minute set that featured the band’s epic laser show dazzling the audience with reflections off the trees and power lines that added an extra level of psychedelia. The band’s mix of influences from Queen to Metallica and Smashing Pumpkins provided one of the hardest hitting sets of the week, yet with a melodically accessible flavor that clearly crosses over to multiple audiences.

As someone who hadn’t caught the band live before, I was taken with how much heavier they sounded live than on record (and was kicking myself for having missed them at Kent State’s Flashfest in 2006). “The Resistance” was another high-energy winner from the band’s new album that combined their hard rock and melodic pop influences together in dynamic fashion. The heavy “Stockholm Syndrome” mixed an ’80s metal flavor with a ’90s grunge influence that was a sonic treat, with guitarist/vocalist Matthew Bellamy’s almost operatic vocals providing an extra grandeur.

Bassist Christopher Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard made a tight and powerful rhythm section, killing it all night, while Bellamy’s guitar playing simply dazzled time and again throughout the set. “Knights of Cydonia” closed out the show with a galloping jam that thrilled the crowd once more, as the band capped off one of the top highlights of SXSW 2010. It was readily apparent that this is truly one of the best bands on the planet, and it was a rare and special opportunity to catch an arena level headliner in a more intimate setting.

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Muse: The Resistance

Muse has always been careful to balance their lyrical paranoia with a vast arsenal of sonic weaponry, turning the negativity of songs like “Map of the Problematique” and “Stockholm Syndrome” into lighter-waving anthems for the dance floor or the mosh pit. They came close to tipping the balance on 2006’s Black Holes and Revelations – surprise, singer and lyricist Matthew Bellamy was angry about the Iraq War – but fortunately for them they had cooked up their best batch of songs to go with those anti-war tirades and ‘die with your boots on’ battle cries. The album became the band’s first US Top Ten hit and vaulted the British trio into the rock’s upper echelon. If you need more proof of the band’s growing status among rock aficionados, look no further than the inclusion of Bellamy as an unlockable guitarist in “Guitar Hero 5.”

After a hellacious tour schedule – which produced the stopgap live album H.A.A.R.P. – the band finally settled down long enough to enter the studio and prepare for the follow-up album. It was here that they decided to do what no prog band should ever be allowed to do: produce the album themselves. Any band as musically gifted as Muse needs an outside voice of reason, someone to reign them in when they’re tempted to go even more over the top than they already go. More importantly, the band could have used someone to tell them that they’re repeating themselves far too frequently. Granted, the main musical thrust behind The Resistance may be unique in that this album is more symphonic than their previous efforts, but several of these songs echo the band’s earlier work, sometimes lazily so.


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