There are ways to fill Madison Square Garden with just a great voice and instruments, but Muse was all about massive spectacle as it headlined the famous New York arena on Friday (March 5). If it wasn't dazzling excess -- from ascending video platforms and bloody eyeball balloons to piercing green lights worthy of Laser Pink Floyd -- Muse wasn't interested.
Taking its moves from equal parts Queen, Floyd, Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against The Machine, and even a note or two of Led Zeppelin, the British trio stormed the Garden with an intricate industrial stage setup, most of the soaring-yet-angular dystopian tunes from its 2009 smash, "The Resistance," and a throbbing pit of fist-pumping fans.
Though dwarfed by Muse's skyscraper-patterned stage pillars, opener Silversun Pickups earned plenty of appreciative hoots and hollers as it powered through an eight-song set. Living up to the band's recent Best New Artist Grammy nomination, SSPU's Elfin-voiced singer Brian Aubert managed to ably counterbalance the muscle of his guitar, Nikki Monninger's bass, and Christopher Guanlao's drums on "There's No Secrets This Year" and "Panic Switch," the latter of which Aubert dedicated to a friend that had just overcome breast cancer.
After an intro by rock radio stalwart Matt Pinfield, the lights dimmed, the crowd on the floor surged forward, and the skyscraper "towers" fell to reveal Muse perched atop blinding lo-res video columns. Frontman Matthew Bellamy, clad in a silvery suit and t-shirt, roared into "Uprising" followed by "Resistance," the opening 1-2 salvo of both the night and the album from which the songs came.
Wielding rock cliches without a hint of self-consciousness, Bellamy doled out "Hello New York City!" shoutouts and on-your-knees guitar solos with a theatrical ease that thrilled fans rather than provoked eye-rolling. With Dominic Howard's drums keened up to a pummel -- and the rising and falling columns scrolling creepy 8-bit lines of data and white-on-black eyes blinking -- the trio rolled through arena-ready goodies from "Absolution" ("Stockholm Syndrome") and "Black Holes And Revelations" ("Starlight"). Bellamy showed off a Bono-esque falsetto on "Supermassive Black Hole" and got his Freddie Mercury on behind the piano for 2001's "Feeling Good."
Shouting into megaphones, clambering on boiler-room scaffolding into the wings of the crowd, and literally refracting a spotlight onto the audience, Muse grafted a sense of the epic -- including Howard's timpani's on "Exogenesis: Symphony, Part 1: Overture " -- onto the 21-song set's panopticon paranoia. By the time of three-song encore, Galaga video-game fighters were being captured on screen, and the crowd's voices equalled Bellamy's, shouting, "You and I must fight to survive / no one's gonna take me alive," during the chorus of "Knights of Cydonia."
Steam jets pulsed, the music crashed, the screens flickered, the fans thrust their arms in the air like weapons. Muse and the 20,000 fans gathered in the sold-out Garden seemed to agree -- this is the 21st century, and if Big Brother is watching us, we're at least going to put on a show.