Band of Skulls
Monday, Jan. 28, 2013
Better than: Matt Crawley wailing in his best falsetto atop the roof of Downton.
From its earliest records to the present day, Muse has maintained the sound and presence of a band that plays arenas. Over nearly two decades it has refined an epic hybrid of Queen's bombast, latter-era King Crimson's proggy crunch, and Radiohead's lush paranoia -- the band's lineage is nothing if not English. There's no raw or undeveloped antecedent to Muse's sound -- it arrived fully and densely formed, to play places like Oakland's Oracle Arena. So it sure would've been awkward if the whole thing hadn't worked out that way.
At 7:30, Oracle is three-quarters full and politely admiring the last two songs of Band of Skulls opening set. Seemingly constructed out of leftover pieces of The Black Keys and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the band's post-Led Zeppelin stomp is rote and utterly without distinction or personality. No one seems to mind too terribly much, idly checking smartphones and swilling beers before the big event.
Miles the DJ from Live 105 comes out at 8 p.m. to assure the audience that Muse will take the stage in 15 minutes. Smoke fills the arena as men are raised by cables up to the rafters. It's all very Mission: Impossible, and the audience cheers, presumably at the fact that Muse pay men to endanger themselves to ensure the quality of the band's stage show.
Although it wouldn't appropriate without some fancy lights, Muse's music is plenty pyrotechnic on its own. Opening with a bizarre and heavy dubstep vamp, the band launched into the strangely Tool-esque growl of The 2nd Law lead track, "Supremacy."
It's fairly impressive that Muse is merely a power trio, relying only on textural assistance from a live keyboardist. For the most part, the group really gets it done with bass, drums, and guitar, replacing its lush studio character with a heavy live sound. While lead singer and guitarist Matt Bellamy is certainly no slouch, delivering space-psych guitar riffs and operatic vocals with equal aplomb, special mention must be made of the rhythm section, which provides the substantial perch from which Bellamy soars. Bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard may in fact be the fount of the band's aforementioned bombast, striking powerfully heavy foundations that emote and expand on Bellamy's melodies.
Halfway through the set, a cover of Ennio Morricone's "Man With Harmonica" (featuring Wolstenholme on harmonica) heralds Muse's own spaghetti western homage, the mega-hit "Knights of Cydonia." It's the most rousing moment since the band hit the stage, and it hits tonight's crowd hard.
A grand piano emerges for the show's second half (a foreshadowing of "Starlight"?) only to be wheeled out after Bellamy bangs out the classic "Sunburn." "Time Is Running Out" follows, and finds the whole general admission section bobbing in time to its chorus. Electronica-aping "Madness" presents a multitiered video installation and the most impressive laser light sequence of the show to buttress the song's beautifully organic crescendo.
Bellamy dedicates a raucous and manic "Uprising" to "James and Lars" of Metallica before leaving the stage. Encore "Starlight" is more wrenching than a multiplatinum single has any right to be, which goes a long way toward explaining Muse's success. For a band whose instincts are to create arena rock, these guys are nothing if not utterly sincere.
Bellamy also dedicated bass-heavy thumper "Panic Station" to "one of the great musicians in the house," Primus' Les Claypool.
Jeers to Oracle Arena for refusing to allow bags into their venue.
Cheers for offering free (monitored) storage for said bags just outside the box office.