While being within punching distance of your musical heroes in a sweat-ridden, 10-capacity broom cupboard can make for an unforgettable live experience, it’s nice to look at the other end of the scale too – when bold visions and supersized tunes need a suitably bonkers stage show to match.
Way back in 2007, pop-prog rockers Muse built on an already firm reputation as an amazing live act by filling London’s then-new Wembley Stadium two nights in a row. Already cramming arenas in support of 2006’s Black Holes & Revelations, packing a retina-ruining array of dazzling light rigs, balloons for Plug in Baby and a drum riser shaped like a blender for sticksman Dom Howard, attempting to sell out a stadium seemed a particularly good test for where Muse were headed next.
Naturally, it was an assured success – and suddenly a world of even larger venues was opened up for the Devon trio. Looking back at how they toyed with the arena/stadium setups to bring subsequent albums to life, via the medium of wobbly hand-shot fan-footage.
2007: We’re going to Wembley!

“…so we sort of went for it really: ‘Fuck it, see what happens’”.

– Matt Bellamy

Knowing how much is ‘too much’ has never been a problem for Muse, recurring envelope-pushers yet never over-egging the fantastical: think of how tame just one pyro burst is when you’ve seen Rammstein. Overdoing it would lead to accusations of flashy trickery over putting on a good gig, so Muse wisely spaced the awe-inducing side-shows throughout the show, allowing the songs, as ever, to take center stage.

Besides, when you’re able to BEGIN a show with Knights of Cydonia – a whole concert in itself – and still have enough tunes left to fill a couple of hours, you’re on to a good thing. With huge balls, the band based the stage off the secretive High Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP), a facility in the back end of fuckwhere specifically designed to sexually arouse conspiracy theorists.

“And I WANT YOU NOWWWWW…”

2007: when we were happy with 480p and jpegs the size of gnat’s nuts.

Initial fears on the band’s behalf were allayed when the first show sold out within 45 minutes and a second one was added – while the band were asleep.

To the joy of feature writers nine years later, the second of the two nights would see a DVD release.

http://www.youtube.com/embed/KNJYBOj7Cfc?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent

For a rare airing of Blackout, two acrobats flew over the crowd suspended from balloons, presumably powered by the tears of Thom Yorke.

2009: The Resistance towers

With one of the greatest and most unexpected entrances since the Spanish Inquisition, Muse kicked off each show in support of 2009’s imperfect The Resistance stood inside three huge tower blocks, each adorned with screens on just about every available surface. A lengthy intro, with the towers lit with subdued blues and surreal graphics, gave way to around four seconds of complete arena darkness, with the sound of Howard leading the band into opener Uprising being barely audible. What followed was an all-out visual assault, in time-honoured bloody mental Muse fashion.

http://www.youtube.com/embed/1m371hh-97w?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&start=220&wmode=transparent

2010: Stadium pyramid thingy

It speaks volumes for Muse when a giant flashing pyramid, an elevated platform moving through the crowd and a one-song spaceship are actually quite tame by their standards. With 2007’s Wembley shows now proudly part of an already fascinating history, Muse brought all this and more with them, deciding to do it all over again.

http://www.youtube.com/embed/oa6hMmNV4-0?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&start=47&wmode=transparent

Also of interest was an early employment of 360-degree video technology, with interactive videos of Uprising and Citizen Erased being made available on the band’s website soon afterwards, where thanks to an array of special cameras strategically positioned around the stage, you could see up Bellamy’s nose.

The return of aerial acrobatics, this time for Part 1 of the three-piece Exogenesis Symphony:

http://www.youtube.com/embed/F7X_F6dpWVk?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent

2012: The 2nd Law

Sticking with the pyramid theme, only this time forming one out of levels of screens: beginning as an upside-down pyramid, these gradually closed over the whole band as the show progressed. So far, so Muse.

There was also the introduction of an on-stage spontaneous song selector, done up to look like a casino roulette wheel, that pitted New Born and Stockholm Syndrome against one another every night, with the winner being randomly chosen. Also note Bellamy’s first onstage forays without a guitar, for the likes of Follow Me.

Roulette wheel (beginning) and band-swallowing pyramid light rig (end):

http://www.youtube.com/embed/OHDeFu56S4w?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent

Lifting back up for an encore of Uprising:

http://www.youtube.com/embed/WFlU319wau0?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent
2013: The 2nd Law Stadium Tour
With no shortage of ideas, Muse were backed by a stupidly huge screen – like a supermarket lying on its side – with flame-belching towers and a hilarious animated video of world leaders dancing for the funktacular Panic Station.

http://www.youtube.com/embed/dNpQl-8onjY?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&start=112&wmode=transparent

A robot named ‘Charles’ wheedled out for The 2nd Law: Unsustainable, steamed at the ears and fucked off again. The highlight, however, was the enlisting of acting talent to provide ‘characters’ for Feeling Good – a businesswoman showering herself in oil –

http://www.youtube.com/embed/SjKLX-mUOGI?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&start=159&wmode=transparent

– and an Iain Duncan Smith lookalike for Animals, who walked down the stage chucking money around, before it showered around him like confetti, causing him to have a heart attack and collapse on the B-stage while trying to snatch as much as it as possible.

http://www.youtube.com/embed/NOo4ODAenVw?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent

Not just any money, though. Muse invented their own currency, Musos, which fans could collect and register on The Bank of Muse, with prizes for reaching targets.

2015-16: Here come the drones

2015’s shit-kicking, dark and conceptual Drones marked (yet) another proud chapter in Muse’s history of really quite batshit stage shows. Not content with having a wondrously dark, immersive and imaginative show courtesy of Montreal multimedia wizards Moment Factory (who have a stunning trailer on their website that encapsulates the jaw-dropping show), the album’s obsession with drones spilled into the subsequent arena tour. Matt Bellamy tantalisingly confirmed that “There will be drones”, citing the useage of a custom-built software program that would allow a fleet of specially-constructed drones to be remotely controlled within a live environment.

The health-and-safety implications were astounding, given that the two most popular preconceptions of drones in the general consciousness were either pointy wartime death bastards or simple quadcopters. Assuming Muse’s fleet to be formed of the latter, more than a few fans must have wondered how the hell ¬anything with sharp pointy whizzing bits might be legally allowed to operate above the head of actual people.

All fears were allayed when the drones’ design was revealed to be more akin to a levitating ping-pong ball, with myself surmising that they are designed to be as physically light as possible, allowing for teeny and barely visible rotor blades to be positioned around the sides of the drones.

As innocuous as the drones might have first seemed, they produced a collective ‘Ooooooooh’ when gently wafting down from the ceiling, moving into formation, and all lighting up simultaneously for the band’s live intro, the none-more-fitting, ethereal and incredibly haunting. vocals-only Drones.

http://www.youtube.com/embed/CaORkQzz7R0?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent

Providing a perfect introduction for the fleet, impressively lining up along the two walkways that jutted out from the band’s rotating in-the-round stage before Bellamy reeled off the fuck-you riff of Psycho. Returning sporadically for a mesmerising Supermassive Black Hole and others, the sheer ballsy innovation of having actual drones as part of the show surely prodded the boundaries of what bands – and even other types of stage show – can achieve (and get away with).

http://www.youtube.com/embed/OIk7Diu2Kl0?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&start=439&wmode=transparent

Each Muse show leaves me routinely spellbound, and exasperatedly wondering where the hell could anyone go from here – but given their propensity to innovate, surprise and dazzle, I am faithful that next time, they’ll do something just as brilliantly bonkers.

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