Muse at the Verizon Center

Continually progressive English rock band Muse perform at DC's Verizon Center. Photo: Muse

WASHINGTON, September 25, 2013 — Before Muse’s recent show at the Verizon Center got underway, all the audience could see onstage was a pyramid of monitors. But soon, those monitors rose, revealing the English trio surrounded by even more videos of the band, at times prerecorded, while at others, actual live shots of their ongoing performance.

This constant and extensive video presence left everyone in the arena with a clear view of what was happening with the band at any moment while they were on stage, no matter where one happened to be seated. The omnipresent videos also signified the absolute spectacle that always constitutes a Muse show.

Since the dawn of its existence, Muse has been known as a band with huge ideas that just seem to be getting progressively bigger with each new album they decide to issue, and the more comfortable they get with their sound, or whatever new avenue they decide to. They have perfectly married the idea of a guitar driven pop/rock band with the aesthetics of prog-rock.  Other rather they’ve turned their brand of symphonic space rock into something that has morphed into mainstream pop/rock.

It’s funny that Muse has become as big a band as they are now because their music isn’t the kind that necessarily garners as much mainstream attention as they seem to get. It’s funny but not all that surprising, as they combine aspects of other popular British acts into a different kind of package. 

They’re conceptually a challenging band, but not as esoteric as, say, Radiohead. They possess a decidedly nifty pop sense, but also have a bit more depth than the majority of Brit-pop bands originating in the early ‘90s. All this is wrapped up in a constantly-evolving thematic package that consistently makes the significance of Muse seem larger and larger.

In this case, playing an arena tour is easily the greatest venue choice for the band that Muse has been becoming. It allows them to punctuate every one of their sweeping and grandiose songs with their unique and forceful stage presence.

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Muse just isn’t a small venue band anymore, and their longtime musical aspirations never really lent themselves to smaller venues anyway. Then again, they still need to be indoors for audiences to get the full effect of their live show or at least the one they put on at the Verizon Center.

Muse has always managed to add a tinge of sci-fi flavor to their music, not just in terms of lyrical content – which is frequently surface stuff in a song like “Supermassive Black Holes” – but also in the general feel of their songs. Despite being only a three piece ensemble, Muse’s songs are intricately textured and layered, giving way to their complex soundscape that ranges from the speed and directness of an action film to the sweeping majesty of a space odyssey.

Hence, that’s why Muse incorporates what amounts to an intricate laser show into their set, creating the sense that the audience is watching Pink Floyd at a planetarium. 

Granted the show doesn’t immediately start out this way. In fact, the show’s opening seemed rather tame. Opening for Muse was the Kentucky blues rock band Cage the Elephant.

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At first this seemed like an interesting choice for an opener because Cage doesn’t necessarily share the high-minded aspects of Muse’s sound, although that’s likely the point. Cage the Elephant’s sound lays the groundwork for the rest of the show by being rooted in a number of different hard rock traditions.

Where Muse is almost pristine, Cage the Elephant is gritty and down-to-earth. It’s the distinction in that contrast that gives Muse an opening to fly off the handle later on while allowing the audience to appreciate an opener like Cage the Elephant to exist in their own context.

Muse followed the straight rock-and-roll act of Cage the Elephant by slowly leaning into some of its larger excesses. Through the first few songs, they kept things close to the vest by performing some of their most direct and driving rock numbers. But as night progressed and Muse started to delve into some of their more twisting and winding numbers, the show just became epic in scale. 

Front man Matthew Bellamy and bass player Chris Wolstenholme started exploring the massive amounts of room on the stage, Dominic Howard’s bass drum just got louder, the video in the background became more kinetic and esoteric, and the stage lighting varied wildly in its nearly hypnotic intricacies as it approaches a peak of retina-searing intensity. The band kept building and building with no real logical end point in sight until they finally had to stop.

Muse puts a lot of effort into making experiences out their albums while still trying to retain the pop sensibility that keeps them accessible. That seemed to be the exact same way they approached their live show here. There are so many moving parts during their set that it’s easy to get distracted. But they manage to do an excellent job keeping the audience centered on the music and on the band. The audience never loses focus, remaining keenly aware of the uniquely operatic rock that Muse is pushing forward.


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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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