The band said they’d play whatever songs the fans would vote. The fans voted rarities, oldies, B-sides, songs that have never been played before. The band kept word….
But let’s begin in the beginning. When Muse announced a show at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire (which is incredibly small by Muse standards with a capacity of only 2000 people) as a charity gig for The Passage, it was obvious that chances to get tickets were close to nothing. The announcement that ticket holders would get the chance to vote the setlist didn’t exactly help to calm the hype down.
“I’ll get us tickets. I always get tickets!”, a friend of mine boasted before the presale. I laughed at him. But the next day, while I was still trying to get Ticketmaster running, I received a message…. “We have tickets.” (!!!!!) Okay, only seats, in the furthest corner of the first balcony (at least that’s what it looked like on the seating map), for a ridiculously expensive price (104£ per seat), but at least: tickets!
And when the first pictures appeared of people queuing outside the SBE early the day before the show already, I was actually happy that I didn’t have to put myself into the barrier competition. Nothing beats the insanity of the Muse fandom… Instead, I arrived in London on the day of the concert, enjoyed a nice stroll through Hyde Park (will I EVER see somebody speak at the Speaker’s Corner??), got annoyed by the amount of people in the city and therefore went to Shepherd’s Bush early afternoon to see if I could catch the band arriving at the venue (long story short: success! 🙂 )
And finally, we were in! Our seats proved to be much better than expected; being at the edge of the row meant we had an unblocked view, and it wasn’t thaat far away from the stage either, thanks to the small size of this beautiful venue.
A guy from The Passage thanked the audience, the band and the venue and told us a bit about the organisation’s work helping homeless people. After another bit of waiting, the lights went out…
came on stage without any sort of intro, quickly greeted the audience and kicked off with Assassin. All hell broke lose in the pit, everybody jumped and sang along as if there was no tomorrow. Not much different on stage – Matt jumped up and down like a rubber ball, Dom beat his drumkit up, Chris was in his usual headbanging routine. The monstrous riffs of the song sounded amazing, with a very heavy guitar sound that would make many metal bands jealous. Same for the second song, Dead Star! At that point it was clear that this night was going to be special, very special – performance wise as well as setlist wise. Both Assassin and Dead Star have very rarely been played over the last years, but it just got more obscure from there. After Muscle Museum from the debut album (again, hardly played for many years), Matt announced a song they have never ever performed live: Easily, a B-side from the Black Holes & Revelations era in 2006. One might think a band that gets ‘forced’ by fan vote to rehearse a certain song for one night only might not give a shit and struggle themselves through the performance. But Muse had done their homework and absolutely nailed it! Speaking of nailing it: I think most people would have thought Matt wouldn’t be able to pull off the high notes in Showbiz (the song that had got by far the most votes in the setlist poll), as he had been battling a bit with his (in-)famous falsettos on the last tour. And how do you know what to expect when a song hasn’t been played for more than 10 years? But yeah… like every other song that night, he nailed it! They nailed everything that night – every sound, every song, every instrument, it was magnificent. (Wait no, Matt fucked up the lyrics once. Classic.)
Muse have been an important part of my life for over a decade now, so it’s hard to describe the emotions I experienced during this show… shocked, overwhelmed, unbelievably happy, and thankful… for the fact that I was able to be there, and for this band for being so fucking perfect! I think I sobbed my way through most of the songs and at some point felt like I was going to faint because I had no breath left from singing and screaming.
By the way, no song on the setlist (except for the mandatory drum&bass jam) was younger than 2006, so this show was also a huge throwback to the first half of Muse’s career. More rarities (Fury and even Glorious – I had dreamed but never believed I’d ever hear this beautiful song live), a few songs that always had a good chance to pop up in the set (Citizen Erased, Butterflies & Hurricanes), a few staples to give the band some rest (Hysteria, Plug In Baby, Knights Of Cydonia), another fine oldie that has been off the setlist for 10 years (Sing For Absolution), and a whole battery of riffs after New Born, finally leading to Yes Please… whatever they played, they stayed within the time frame of their first four albums. (This was even reflected in Matt’s outfit: red pants and silver shoes, as copied by legions of fans since the BH&R tour.) And every song they played, including all those that were not even official album tracks, can easily be called a masterpiece.
So here’s the downside of this surreal concert experience, because for me it came with a realisation of something that I think I’ve known for quite a while but never dared to admit: Muse’s songwriting had it’s peak more than 10 years ago. I love every single one of the new albums a lot, they contain many excellent songs, and the band surely has improved in many other ways since then (for example, Matt’s vocals are so much stronger nowadays despite the occasional falsetto struggles), but their exceptional strength lies within that artsy, progressive approach to songwriting that was at it’s best during the times of Absolution and Black Holes & Revelations and has since then only shown its face on a few songs across the newer albums. (I think there was a lot of potential on Drones, but it feels like they wanted to get this one done very quickly when they could’ve put a lot more thought into it.) Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those people who want the band to record Absolution over and over again, but a tiny little part of me hopes that they take some inspiration from playing these older songs at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire and process this into whatever crazy ideas they might come up with for their next album. Because one thing’s for sure: It never gets boring with Muse!