Though their sound taps into multiple genres, Muse is a progressive rock band at its core; and while their musical focus may shift from one album to the next, the one cog that remains constant is their conceptual live show. Dramatic, over-the-top and overtly entertaining, the current run packed the United Center in Chicago on Friday night for a spectacular audiovisual experience.
Guitarist and vocalist Matt Bellamy is the centerpiece of the show, while drummer Dominic Howard and bassist Chris Wolstenholme fuel the machine. Joining them were choreographed, trombone-playing, digital personalities, plenty of lasers and smoke, and a guest appearance of Murph the Robot during a concert that brought their latest effort, Simulation Theory, to life. A trio by definition, their touring musicians give Bellamy the freedom to roam sans guitar during the opening of “Uprising” and offer additional percussion during the performance.
Whether they’re driving home a political message with power anthem “Psycho" or paying tribute to the '80s with “Thriller” tinged, sci-fi infused instant classic “Thought Contagion," Muse does so with the highest level of showmanship. The infectious and funky “Break It To Me” utilized floating astronauts (or were they in quarantine gear?), that landed on stage during Bellamy’s DJ-scratch guitar solo. Then there was choreographed routine which featured masked female dancers in skin tight suits firing off CO2 cannons in unison during the climatic EDM portions of “Propaganda."
Muse also dealt out a fair portion of fan favorites from each of their albums. Suddenly pertinent “Supermassive Black Hole” began with an ode to Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, tying in the sci-fi theme. Wolstenholme’s driving intro to “Hysteria” raised the roof, concluding with a light tribute to Chicago alt-rockers The Smashing Pumpkins when they teased the crowd with an instrumental “Cherub Rock,” while many in the audience added the vocals. Another sing-along broke out during “Time Is Running Out.”
There was a single moment during the evening when they dialed it back. The trio took to the end of the catwalk, backs toward one another in a very tight circle, to perform the acoustic gospel version of “Dig Down.”
They ended on a heavy note with an extended metal medley. Muse hammered though “Stockholm Syndrome / Assassin / Reapers / The Handler / New Born,” while the massive figure Murph the Robot rose from behind the stage and precariously hovered over the band. The show’s finale was a build-up to “Knights of Cydonia” that saw Wolstenholme take to harmonica which eventually led into Bellamy’s vocal intro. Muse always find a way to present their music in new and interesting take, and this tour takes it to another level.