Review: Muse at the Etihad

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Well, where to begin…?

There was a giant lightbulb. There was a woman drinking petrol. There was a banker throwing “money” into the crowd. But most of all, there were some rockin’ tunes.

The support acts – Bastille and Dizzee Rascal – whilst slightly unexpected choices, were excellent. Bastille’s performance was energetic and polished. Their front man – clearly a very talented and versatile musician – made me tired just watching, as he constantly ran around the stage, at different times playing keyboard, drums and guitar as well as singing. I only wished that i’d listened to their album prior to the gig, as I was unfamiliar with most of their songs. Their euphoric, upbeat synth-pop was a great mood-setter for the rest of the concert, and needless to say, I’ve now bought their album.

Up next was Dizzee Rascal. A veteran of the British rap scene [in relative terms], I was expecting good things. He did not disappoint, performing a mix of his best known hits and newer material and managing to keep a crowd who could have easily turned against him – let’s face it, were here for a rock gig – on his side. He had a really excellent vocalist, back-up and DJ with him, which, given how giant the stage (and venue) was, seemed like a good move. My one qualm with his performance was that his language was atrocious for the entire set. I’m not really a fan of gratuitous swearing at the best of times, and much as he gave a great performance to which I sang and danced along with gusto, the teacher in me struggled to let his constant use of the F word go – considering he’s a rapper, his use of language was definitely not as creative as it could have been!
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So, the main event. Muse. This was a set permeated with political and social comment. As ever, their performance was excellent, and the crowd was not disappointed by their two hour set. And their new material – very different to their older albums – was received with almost as much enthusiasm as old favourites such as Plug In Baby or Feeling Good. The show was fairly impressive – at various points there was a giant lightbulb floating across the stage with an acrobat hanging from it, a huge robot, lots of fire canons and a silver grand piano with LEDs in the lid – but it was clear that they wanted to draw the audience’s attention to the political message contained on their latest album.

They opened and closed their set with a pair of songs (although i might be tempted to call them soundscapes) from their new album, The 2nd Law: ‘Unsustainable’ and ‘Isolated System’, in which there is a fairly obvious use of media reports of global economic issues and environmental problems. This was combined with short dramatic scenes at various points during the set, which would start on the big screens before bursting out and on to the stage, bringing them to the very forefront of the show – at these points, the music was clearly not meant to be the main focus, but a backdrop. The first of these (i’m not including a quirky animation in which leading politicians danced along to a Muse song, entertaining as it was) involved a board room, a smirking banker, and the collapse of the stock exchange. He then burst on to the stage, and proceeded to throw money into the crowd before dying at the end of the stage, in the middle of the crowd. With the song ‘Animal’ playing alongside this, and the demonic facial expressions of the characters in the film, this was clearly meant to be a statement about the negative effect of bankers on our current economic situation. The second short was of a woman in a business suit attached to a mobile phone – this time on the stage – who dramatically walks to a petrol pump at the end of the stage, drinks a few gallons of petrol and keels over, accompanied by the song ‘Feeling Good’.

Whilst I am completely in agreement with both of these political statements – I assume the latter was about waste, gluttony, greed – take your pick – I was somewhat baffled by the obvious contradiction between these messages and the fact that a bottom price ticket for this tour cost £50. I am well aware that this is the going rate for an arena tour, but with around 50,000 people in attendance at every gig, I suspect that the band could charge a little less for tickets and still make a fairly good chunk of profit out of the proceeds of this tour. They didn’t exactly shy away from using (presumably petrol fuelled) fire cannons at every available opportunity either. The show and music were undoubtedly excellent, but I was left a little puzzled by this apparent attempt at political messaging – it just didn’t ring true with the rest of the show and its setting in what is arguably the home of greed – a premiership football stadium.

And the light bulb wasn’t even an energy saving bulb.

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