Photographs by Randall Vasquez.
Muse is a band that holds a special place in my heart. Seeing the band perform at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto was my fourth time seeing them. Other than some local bands I have not seen any band more than Muse, them and the opening act X Ambassadors took the lead from the numerous acts that are sitting at 3 shows. It is not just how many times I have seen Muse that makes them special but what those shows were. The very first time I saw them was back in 2006 at the Virgin Festival, which was my first ever festival. It planted the seeds in me, making me a seasoned veteran of Bonnaroo, Osheaga, Wayhome and more. The second time I saw the band back in 2010 was perhaps one of the three greatest shows I have ever scene and with the band members each playing on their own towering pillar it is now a bench mark all stadium shows must compete against. The third time I saw the band in 2013 happened to be the very first time I wrote a review for a show. My friend Michael Natale set me up with a site he worked for and I wrote a not all that terrible piece! I have since gotten a lot better, and returned the favour by bringing in Michael as a contributor to Live in Limbo. Safe to say those three shows are ones I will cherish.
Opening act X Ambassadors I have also now seen four times, although instead of it taking over almost ten years it was a little over two. I was introduced to them on a whim to cover their show back at Adelaide Hall and grew to love them. They played a quick set, on what must be their most massive shows to date as a band. Front man Sam Harris promised the slowly growing crowd a great show. Even though I’m sure most of the people in the audience weren’t quite familiar with the group they still cheered on loudly when Harris started playing the sax on Love Songs Drug Songs, proving that everyone loves some saxophone. Their performance of Unsteady seems to have been amped up in intensity, as the band has learned to play their music to fill large venues. Harris told the crowd that if they knew the lyrics to Renegades to sing along, and the maybe the audience had just seen the Jeep commercial enough but during the chorus enough people actually sang the words to let Harris hold the microphone out to them. They ended their set with Jungle; their usual show closer that works just as well in Adelaide Hall as it does in the Air Canada Centre.
Muse’s intro song was one you wouldn’t expect for a prog-rock/electronic band to have, Straight Outta Compton, the full explicit version. While the crowd was mostly dudes in their early thirties, there were some families at the show and hilariously a very young boy in front of me seemed to quite enjoy dancing to the tales of the streets from Ice Cube and company as his mother gleefully joined in the fun. Muse seems to pride themselves on somehow topping their previous tours no matter the cost. This time a long runway stage ran end to end on where the ice normally sits with a large circular stage in the middle, creating a 360 “in the round” style setting so that everyone could see the band at all angles. Above the center ring was a wrap around
If having a crazy stage setup wasn’t enough when the band broke out in the first song of the night, Drones/Psycho, actual drones started hovering over the crowd. They were giant inflatable clear balls with LED lights running over the seams lighting them up flying around ten feet or so over the heads of spectators as little spotlights picked people out one by one. Bassist Chris Wolstenholme had lights running up his fret board, which in the dark made his instrumental look more like a light saber. During the second song Dead Inside large transparent scrims came flying down from the ceiling as projectors on either side transmitted video feeds of the band playing intercut with imagery creating a 3D illusion. This is similar technology that made Tupac appear at Coachella a few years ago.
The band is bombast topped with excess and they have earned every bit of it. Normally sound can be muted or have only certain instruments heard at such large stadiums, but Muse has perfected the art of always sounding perfect. With red strips of lights contrasted with white floodlights, Hysteria seemed like it was being played on the set of the frozen carbonate scene in the Empire Strikes Back. Basically the whole show seemed to be the offspring of Tron, Star Wars and Blade Runner.
The band made sure to touch on songs from no less than six of their albums (their debut record Showbiz was the only one not represented), so there was plenty of songs for both their die hard fan base and those that only learned about them post 2012 Olympics. Though the band did manage to stick mostly to the hits as no real deep cuts were played, a change from their previous tours, which always featured some rarities. For their hit Starlight, the crowd beautifully sung the chorus each time around allowing singer Matt Bellamy to bask in the adulation from his adoring fan base.
One of the staples of a live Muse show is a drum and bass off between Dominic Howard and Wolstenholm and the crowd cheered while head banging along to the low end battle. Between giant black balloons filled with confetti and a gigantic inflatable fighter jet drone that flew over the crowd, there was no shortage of surprise wow moments. During Madness Wolstenholm played an iPad bass. No really, where you normally strum a guitar was an iPad and a fretless neck was attached to it so it was played like a drum machine sequencer with guitar notes.
All the big hits were played including Resistance, Undisclosed Desires, Time is Running Out and Uprising. But the band saved the best for last with their best song Knights of Cydonia. While the lyrics to most of their songs can verge on being eye rolling, the group manages to always make kick ass music. Knights of Cydonia combines a head banging beat with minimalist lyrics about foolish kings and unresponsive gods all wrapped up in a spacey prog rock and western song. After their set finished the three members walked end to end on the stage taking a bow and waving to each section of the stadium and as the other two walked off the massive set Howard leaned into one of Bellamy’s microphones and gave a passionate thank you for the crowds support, which only elicited more cheers and applause.
Having seen the band four times already, I cannot recommend them enough. I hope that I keep getting to see them in the future as they represent one of the best touring rock bands working today in the vain of what giants of the past like Queen, Van Halen and Guns and Roses use to do.
Thanks to Live Nation Ontario for media access.